For the last month, I have been taking the long way home from work. Each day when I approach the highway exit, I am greeted by a line of cars slowly inching forward, a site frustrating enough to motivate most drivers to a less congested route. I however, and in December only, rotate the wheel right to join traffic. Knowing I’ll be sitting for a while, I tune my radio station to Warm 98’s Christmas Special and am promptly greeted by the smooth timbre of Nat King. He sings, I drive, and eventually my car turns a corner into Old Montgomery. Upon entering, my ability to multitask is tested as my gaze shifts toward an arrangement of light-draped trees that illuminate each side of the narrow street. Pedestrians in puffy coats gracefully move along the walkways and dance unknowingly to my strategically chosen Christmas radio soundtrack, perfecting the scene. This is what a 23-year-old Jewish girl sat fifteen minutes in traffic to watch. So worth it.
I recognize that my behavior is a bit out of the ordinary for your average Jew, but I truly love the holiday season. (Sidenote: I guess I’m not your average Jew. And actually, now that I think about it, who is? What does that even mean anyway?) December is the time of year when I wear my interfaith badge right on my sleeve because I have the true pleasure of navigating Chanukah and Christmas together. Although my sister Shelby and I were raised Jewish, my mother’s side of the family is Christian, so every year on December 25th we schlep over to Grandma and Grandpas bright and early for Christmas festivities. This act never phased me in the past but has become increasingly comedic in recent years. I can picture my sister and me now. Two Star-of-David-wearing, Israel-going, Woody-Allen-movie-watching gals gathered around a Christmas tree neatly decorated in green, red, and BLUE lights. It’s a sight.
Most of the time those blue lights serve as just about the only proof of our family’s religious diversity. However, this year would be different, as Christmas Eve shared its date with Chanukah’s first night, requiring me to use those trusty interfaith skills to satisfy both sets of family. To top it off, I had been helping to plan the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s annual young adult Chanukah event, Latkapalooza, so I added that to the itinerary. My visiting Christian-raised cousin Stephan, agreed to join us at the event in an effort to alleviate some interfaith holiday stress, inadvertently causing me to worry if he would be “comfortable” during the Jewish evening. Oy vey.
After a fair amount of anticipation, the evening of the 24th came. I began by lighting the candles with my sister and father, then quickly drove to my grandparents’ house where we enjoyed our special holiday dinner along with an assorted mix of chocolate and various T.V. Christmas specials. When I feared one more chocolate might keep me from squeezing into my outfit for the night’s festivities, I rolled off the couch at about 9:30 and herded the three of us to the car, heading to Latkapalooza. Right away I began to walk my cousin around the crowded room, introducing him to my friends, and answering all the questions. “Yes he is single” and “no he is not Jewish.” Before I knew it we were both laughing, dancing, and playing dreidel with our newly-shared friends. Another comedic, yet lovely scene to add to my holiday memory archive. I had done it! A successful and fantastic celebration.
It is true that having an interfaith family can be stressful, especially during this time of year. However, the amount of joy it brings my family far surpasses any discomfort we may feel because it has truly created a stronger sense of appreciation for each other and for our differences. It’s what makes us, us. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking more about this on WVXU (you can listen in here).
I have to say, running from Christmas to Chanukah celebrations alongside my sister and non-Jewish cousin is the priceless and perfect depiction of what it means to be interfaith to me. That and hearing him say “chag sameach” (happy holidays) with a South Carolina accent.