I am engaged to truly wonderful man who was baptized into the LDS church a few years ago. My fiance was not a member of a Christian faith before he joined the church, and he has never really celebrated Christmas before. Not even in a secular way. This may not seem like a big deal, but allow me to illustrate: we could have been set up by a mutual friend six months before we eventually met, but we weren’t, because the mutual friend thought my fiance didn’t get Christmas and, remembering that my mother replaces every piece of decor in her house with Christmas decor during December, was convinced that the relationship could never work.
I have a big, loud, loving Mormon family that does not believe in halfhearted Christmas celebrations. We’re talking matching pajamas and rhyming, multi-stage treasure hunts and nativity re-enactments and Danish aebleskivers from my great-grandmother’s recipe and grandkids bolting to bed after sighting Rudolph’s nose in the sky and a laundry list of other traditions. And I’m afraid that this might be a little overwhelming for an adult’s first Christmas. My fiance’s heart is in the right place: the commercialism of Christmas is off-putting to him, he wishes the crowds at Temple Square would go inside the building and serve in addition to looking at the lights, and he went to two church Christmas parties last year where talk of Santa and presents abounded but there was nary a mention of the baby born in Bethlehem. I should say, too, that though he’s a little nervous about the prospect of my family’s enormous Christmas celebrations, he has prepared in the best way he knows how: research. Months ago, after a conversation about some of my family’s Christmas traditions, he got online and bought for himself one of our favorite Christmas storybooks. The book is out of print and probably cost him a small fortune, but it was very sweet. He is trying to understand why this holiday is important to me.
So here’s the trick: How do I help this man I love understand this celebration that is important to my faith, to my family, and to me?
Dig if you will the picture–kind Jewish husband trying to please goyische wife on the first Christmas they’ve celebrated with their kids in their own home. So he decides to go all out and cook a Christmas dinner, the centerpiece of which is a roast pork loin stuffed with gourmet cubed bacon. And then he ends up spending the earliest hours of his Christmas morning stricken by flu and hunched over a toilet hurling up said pork loin.
Welcome to my interfaith family Yuletide life.
No doubt, this time of year brings challenges to mixed-faith (or, in your case, mixed-culture) families trying to achieve peace and harmony. It’s worth noting too that many people dread the holidays for other reasons. Shorter days can activate depressive moods. Difficult family circumstances can heighten feelings of isolation. And for many reasonable people, the style in which Christmas is generally celebrated these days is like one giant plastic-and-sugar fueled commercial assault.
But each of us must make our own peace with the holiday season. In my Jewish-Mormon household, we’ve tried some truly unsuccessful tactics—the bacon-stuffed pork loin being the most spectacular. After a few years trying, we’ve found a low-key balance that works for us for now. We do not have a Christmas tree. We do set out manger scenes along with our menorahs. Santa does not visit our house, but we do a big Christmas Eve celebration at Grandma’s, and Grandma has stockings for the kids. And whenever possible, as a family, we attend the beautiful 10 p.m. Christmas Eve service at the Episcopal Cathedral in our city’s historically LGBT neighborhood. Because really, if you want high-class religious festivity, a well-appointed Episcopal Church full of stylish gay folks is the place to be.
This year, your intended will be a guest in your family celebration. Acknowledge with a wink and a smile that you understand your family is over the top, and graciously acknowledge his efforts to join the celebration. If he wants to bow out after a few hours, let him go. More important will be the first year you celebrate the holiday together in your own home. Go slowly. Let the full-blown Christmas you grew up with be an “away game” at first. Honor the sanctity of your shared domestic space and try to keep it a comfortable zone for both spouses. Remember that while it can be entertaining to visit a home that’s festooned with tinsel and twinkle lights from stem to stern, waking up in one every day if Christmas is not your bag is another story.
Now, if you do scale back in your own home in the name of newlywed diplomacy, be prepared for the fact that you may miss Christmas and the familiar around-the-house sights and smells that make the season for you. Create lots of opportunities to wear those jammies and eat those Danish pancakes and smell spruce at the homes of friends and relatives. Over time, as your husband gets the hang of Christmas, there might be some of your traditional celebratory elements that he’s happy to welcome into your joint domestic sphere.
But what’s most important is to develop some new traditions unique to the two of you and the family you are starting. Maybe some holiday do-gooding in the service of a cause you both care about. Or a favorite food you discover and make together. Or a wintry sport-type outing. Something that’s just for the two of you to enjoy.
Over time, he will develop a taste for this strange confabulation that is Christmas, and you will develop a clarifying new perspective on the holiday. And in that space where his desire to share your joy meets your desire to protect his thoughtfulness, you will create a bright little miracle of your own called happiness.
What about you, readers? How is this holiday season treating you? How do you manage the season at home?
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