“My otherwise not-so-religious Protestant-raised husband and I have agreed to raise our future children in the Jewish faith, but my husband insists on having a Christmas tree. I’m not particularly Jewishly observant, but the tree makes me uncomfortable. I also think having a tree would confuse our children. How do I get him to give up the tree before we have kids?”
One of the most important discussions interfaith couples need to have is how they intend to raise their children. You have had that discussion, and your husband has agreed to raise any children you have in the Jewish faith. This willingness on his part is a wonderful gift to you and the Jewish people in general. An important question to contemplate is what does it mean to raise a child in the Jewish faith, and can this happen while still having a tree in your house?
I understand your concern. Christmas is the one time of year when we Jews feel different. Trees, Santa and the like are foreign symbols, and many of us partake of the modern traditions of Chinese food and movies on Christmas. We also use this day to work shifts for our Christian co-workers, and to volunteer in food pantries.
What does the Christmas tree represent for you husband? For many, it’s not a theological symbol. There’s a difference between a tree with a nativity scene and one with iPads, Legos and toy train sets underneath it. For your husband, it sounds like his tree means the latter. The importance of the tree for your husband may very well go deeper. To many, the tree represents important family memories and connections. Imagine someone with a box of ornaments collected over their lifetime—representing special family moments from their childhood and special connections to relatives both living and now past. Now imagine asking that person to give this up; it’s like asking them to give up the most special part of their childhood. It may take your husband some time to do this, or he may need to hold on to this part of his heritage.
Having a Christmas tree at home, while not ideal from a Jewish perspective, does not have to cause confusion to your Jewish children. Raising a Jewish child is something that happens all year round, not just in December. For your children, put the tree in context. Tell them, “We are helping Daddy celebrate his holiday.” This is also true for when you visit your in-laws during Christmas. This respectful exposure to your husband’s traditions need not confuse your children or detract from their Jewish identities.
The most important thing you can do is give your children positive Jewish education and rich Jewish experiences throughout the year. Have Shabbat dinners with your children on Friday nights. Bake challah with them. Have creative and fun Passover seders. Eat apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah. Build a sukkah. Attend religious services with them. Enroll your children in a good Hebrew school or Jewish day school. Send your kids to Jewish summer camp. Dress your children up for Purim. The list goes on! A year of such wonderful and rich Jewish experiences will outweigh seeing a Christmas tree once a year, even if it happens to be in your house.
For more information about dealing with the holidays as an interfaith family, please visit InterfaithFamily.com.