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Jul 7 2014

Kveller Exclusive: An Interview with Olaf from “Frozen”

By at 2:08 pm

Josh Gad is Olaf from Frozen

Zach Braff’s new movie Wish I Was Here gives us plenty to talk about here at Kveller–the film covers everything from the (too high) tuition of Jewish day school to dealing with aging parents. But there was one aspect that was impossible to ignore: among its cadre of impressive actors is Josh Gad, perhaps best known for his voiceover work as the snowman Olaf from FrozenI was lucky enough to sit down with Gad–a Jewish dad himself–and talk about life as a famous snowman. 

Are your kids obsessed with Frozen? 

My 3-month-old doesn’t know what the word “frozen” is, let alone the movie. But my 3.5-year-old is obsessed, like the rest of the world.

And she knows that you play Olaf?

She knows I’m Olaf. What’s interesting is that I never needed to tell her I was Olaf. I took her to go see “Monster’s University,” the first movie she ever saw, and they played a teaser for “Frozen,” and it featured me as Olaf, laughing. There was no dialogue. She looks up at the screen and she goes, “Daddy?” She was 2.5 at the time, and I literally turned away and was like, “Yeah, it’s me,” as I started crying. I was like, I can’t deal with this. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 30 2013

When the Jewish Parents from Long Island Spend Christmas with the Missionaries

By at 4:00 pm

details of christmas tree

My father-in-law is the vice president of an evangelical missionary organization. Yes, evangelism. I know… that word has made me shiver a bit too. If I were to write a sitcom about our family dynamic we would get feedback that it’s unbelievable that the Jewish girl’s in-laws are missionaries… but they are. Truth.

When things started getting serious with my now husband and I, we both had conversations with each set of our parents about our feelings for one another and each other’s religions. We chatted with my parents in my aunt and uncle’s living room when my man and I were on Long Island for Passover. We discussed that while we would return annually to read from the haggadah and play with the four question finger puppets, my guy wasn’t giving up the big JC just because he was opening the door for Elijah.

And we talked to his parents while we were driving to lunch in Minnesota. Very strange to be looking at the back of someone’s head when you’re telling them you won’t be converting to their religion. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 23 2013

The Rabbi’s Wife is Breaking Up With Christmas

By at 9:51 am

the rabbi's wife is breaking up with christmas

I think Christmas and I are breaking up. Itʼs not an easy thing to say. But nevertheless, there it is; itʼs time to end my Christmas love affair. My rabbi/husband will be thrilled.

I suppose a little explanation is in order. I do not celebrate Christmas. I never have. I grew up in a Jewish household and Christmas, unlike bacon, was strictly off limits. As young children my brother and I were carted off to the Concord Hotel in the Catskills where Christmas was apparently also verboten. There we ate (and ate and ate) and swam and played and hid from all things tinsel-strewn and poinsettia-adorned.

As we grew, and our grandparents made what used to be the legally-required pilgrimage to the Sunshine State, trips to the Concord became flights to Ft. Lauderdale, and Christmas began to creep in. At first it was just a palm tree covered in white lights here and there, but slowly this lovely holiday crept into my consciousness.

By the time we hit junior high my parents, feeling secure in their Jewish immersion duties, moved the Florida trip to February break and we began to spend December taking in New York Cityʼs delights of the season: shop windows on Fifth Avenue, the Nutcracker, the Rockettes, even a stroll right under that majestic Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. I fell in love. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 16 2013

Christmas is Why We Send Our Son to Jewish Day School

By at 5:03 pm

christmastime in the UK

I am not a practicing Jew, but I don’t celebrate Christmas either. My husband is a lapsed Christian and a loather of all things Yule. Late December has always been an uncomfortable time in our house. Until, that is, we decided four years ago to send our kids to a Jewish school.

It was a surprisingly easy decision, made for a host of sound reasons, exactly the ones you would expect to figure into a choice about the expanse of your children’s education. But it also solved the problem of Christmas for us and this has turned out to be one of its most wonderful virtues.

I spent the holiday season as a girl in small Jewish niche towns–Great Neck and Boca Raton–where the passing of Christmas was marked in its own ritualistic way, with Chinese food and a trip to the movies. So many happy memories. When I moved to the United Kingdom 14 years ago, however, Christmas became a dark and almost unbearable period, something to escape, not to indulge in. It triggered in me a strong desire to flee homeward and back to a place where there is still a life to be lived on the 25th of December that doesn’t involve a decorated pine tree. Read the rest of this entry →

Why December Makes Me Sad

By at 9:33 am

peacelub

Hello, December. It’s that time of year here in America. A time for good tidings of comfort and joy. A time for happy family memories and meaningful traditions. But for me and my interfaith marriage, December now comes packaged with a new tradition–an annual holiday cry (or if I’m really being honest…cries. Plural.)

Now I know a lot of people cry during the holidays. The pressure of stressful travel plans and forced family gatherings is enough to make many people crack. But for the interfaith family, December is a particularly lonely time.

I go online to order holiday cards. (I am a little behind this year.) I skip over the red and green ones, the ones with Christmas trees or holly or Santa Claus, the ones that say “Merry Christmas,” the ones that say “Happy Hanukkah,” and I’m left to choose from lots of cards with “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” written generically on the front. After much much agonizing, I pick, “Peace, Joy, and Love.” Those are things that people from all faiths want, right? Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 26 2013

The Santa Dreidel–It’s a Real Thing

By at 12:09 pm

DREIDELSSS copy

Walking down the street in my neighborhood the other day, I glanced in the window of a shop at their holiday display and saw something that made me stop in my tracks. What was it, you ask?

The Santa Dreidel. Seems like it’s this year’s version of the Jewish star Christmas tree-topper, or the Hanukkah stocking.

Ah, assimilation. There’s been a lot about it in the Jewish press lately. There was a huge study that came out a few months back, administered by the Pew Research Center, which noted a few trends in the Jewish population in the U.S. The implications were that Jews are becoming less Jewish; instead becoming more secular, intermarrying, and no longer caring as much about Judaism as a religion. Jewish organizations across the country have been wringing their hands–how can we stop the tide of assimilation? How can we convince Jews to stay Jewish? Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 21 2013

A Rabbi’s Take on the Whole Celebrating-Christmas-and-Hanukkah Thing

By at 3:46 pm

hankcrhrist

And now the Kveller Rabbi weighs in on what is most likely the most contentious issue on the calendar: Can you do both? Can one family celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah?

It is not a neutral issue. People on both sides feel passionately. The question with which most families struggle, though, is not an interfaith one. It is an inter-cultural one. Or, as I have heard in some circles, an interfaithless one–because theological belief is not what is getting Kveller readers hot under the collar. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 20 2013

The Interfaith Message is Wrong

By at 9:00 am

xmas

It’s sort of accepted lore by everyone that you must choose one religion to raise your children. Kids will be confused, it’s a watering down of both traditions, and in the end, by not choosing one tradition, you’re in essence choosing no tradition that your child will be fully comfortable in. Don’t do both–do just one. If you’re Jewish, BE Jewish. Do it all the way. And if you are going to do it halfway, at least acknowledge that you are going to have hopeless, confused, and bewildered kids, with no real spiritual grounding or traditions to fall back on.

At least, that’s the message I’ve always gotten. And I’ve been doing this for a while now; my husband and I are coming up on our 12 year anniversary. And what I’ve found, for us, is that the message is wrong.

I know that we’re not technically interfaith. I converted to Judaism, and my oldest two children went to the mikveh along with me. Our youngest was born after the conversion, so her Judaism is assured as well. My oldest child knew she was Jewish from an early age, but it became clear that according to Jewish law, technically, she wasn’t. I didn’t want her to feel torn or like she wasn’t able to claim her Judaism, and took the steps to make sure that she was officially Jewish, even though there are still a lot of Jewish rabbis who would still claim that her conversion isn’t valid because it wasn’t through an Orthodox rabbi. But I did all I could to make sure that she, her brother, and any future children would feel as at home and as comfortable in the religion and spiritual community we were raising them in as possible.

Even before conversion, I was never a particularly observant Catholic. Spiritual, yes, but not particularly “religious.” So in many ways, we didn’t face the same kind of religious discussions that other interfaith families had. Jewish theology has always made sense to me, and it was always a good fit for what I had sort of figured out on my own.

While I still feel very much like we’re an interfaith family, we’re not. We’re an “interculture” family. As far as spiritually, we’re pretty much on the same page. My husband and I aren’t identical in our beliefs, but we’re close enough–closer probably than many couples where both members grew up Jewish. But culturally, we’re still very different.

I love Christmas, he doesn’t. I downplay it in our home, but still actively celebrate–and he celebrates it a lot more than he’d like to, I’m sure. It’s a cultural difference. Neither of our parents are delighted with it. Mine worry that the kids are missing out, and his don’t really understand why I keep insisting on having a tree every year. Not every difference is as weighted. I like milk with dinner and butter on my bagels, and he doesn’t. I’ll never remember to get gefilte fish for Passover without being reminded, and I still think horseradish is gross. He prefers to have the prayers and blessings in Hebrew; I’d rather English, so we do both.

But we have three kids–five including my (Jewish) stepdaughters–and we’re raising them in a Jewish household.  And I get mad. I know I need to stop, but I get hurt and mad and offended when I read that our parenting style  is “wrong,” and that our kids are only half Jewish and thus not as “Jewish” as kids who weren’t afflicted with a non-Jewish parent.  I get hurt and frustrated when I think about my kids reading debates over whether or not they’re actually Jewish, discussions over how their upbringing may be leading to the demise of the Jewish people as a whole, and why putting up a Christmas tree is so, so wrong.

My kids are Jewish. They know that they are part of an ancient tradition, repeating prayers and celebrating holidays that go back for thousands of years. But they’re also proud descendants of Irish, Scottish, and English colonists, and have a branch of the family tree for the lone man who was put to death during the Salem Witch Trials. My family believes in fairies and Christmas trees, too much candy on Easter, and that going to the ocean is a spiritual experience. That’s as much a part of them as matzah on Passover and singing the shema. They shouldn’t feel as though to be one, they can’t have the other.

I’m convinced that we, as a Jewish community, need to really think about the message we send when we claim that interfaith marriage is wrong. In light of the overwhelming number of kids with one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent, we need to be a whole lot more inclusive and accepting and supportive. Judaism has lasted for thousands of years, and I don’t think that my marriage, and others like it, are going to stop it now.

Like this post? Check out the rest of our interfaith pieces here.

Nov 14 2013

Let My Hanukkah Go!

By at 10:40 am

hanukkah cupcakes and presents

I’m a Hanukkah purist. At least a purist from that sacred era of the 1980s, a time before the expression “Hanukkah craft” entered the average Jewish mother’s vernacular.

My parents and my friends’ parents knew that Hanukkah could never compare to Christmas. I don’t remember this community-wide hand-wringing over how the Jewish children could accept why radio stations and stores exclusively played Christmas music without including some versions of Dreidel Dreidel and Maoz Tzur. Nobody was worried about hurting Hanukkah’s feelings or making sure everyone’s holiday got the same size participation trophy every December.

I believe that the visual nature of social media platforms has made the Christmas-Hanukkah comparison significantly worse than in Hanukkahs past. I’ve seen Hanukkah-themed gingerbread houses and gingerbread cookies on Pinterest for goodness sake. While I realize there is no right and wrong way to get jazzed up about Hanukkah, I have to draw the line at gingerbread houses. I mean, come on. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 30 2013

Why This Jewish Mom is Excited for Halloween This Year

By at 12:04 pm

instaghoul halloween decoration

Walking down the street here in Brooklyn, we are practically under a Halloween assault. It’s a riot of pumpkins, multicolored cobwebs, skeletons, and scarecrows. My 4-year-old calls out her favorites (pink cobwebs, in case you were curious) and even the baby can point to the pumpkins. There’s a house five blocks away that turned their entire front stoop into a pirate ship with a skeleton crew, and the witty folks on our walk to school have a spooky version of Instagram (they call it Instaghoul, and I giggle inside every morning).

I grew up celebrating Halloween. In fact, I never knew it was something that some Jews didn’t do until I got to college and someone lectured me on how its pagan origins made it something that Jews specifically shouldn’t do. I suppose that’s true—Halloween certainly was once something deeply religious, and not for the Jews. But that’s just not how it feels these days, at least to me. The majority of those celebrating Halloween in America aren’t doing it for religious reasons anymore. Read the rest of this entry →

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