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.
But the conversations seemed to go well. Of course, I understand that it must be difficult for parents to hear that their children are not going to create a home in the same way their home was created. And we explained to our parents that deciding to be together with the added difficulty and confusion of an interfaith relationship didn’t come easily to either of us.
We love each other. We love how passionate we each are about our religions and we love sharing traditions together. Are we perfect? No. I still get a bit uncomfortable when Jesus comes up in conversation, or get overwhelmed by the idea of how we are going to teach our daughter about both of our religions.
So, how do these plans fit in with the rest of our family now that we’re married? Decently well, all things considered. Both sets of parents send cards to us and to each other for one another’s observed holidays. Both sets of parents not only supported but participated in our interfaith wedding (fully equipped with rabbi, pastor, chuppah, and readings from the Torah and New Testament). Both sets of parents participated in our daughter’s baby naming. And while typically a Jewish tradition (yes, we gave our little girl her Hebrew name), we were naming her after people from both of our families, making promises to her as her parents in front of God, explaining to our friends and family the meaning and significance of her English and Hebrew names and promising to tell her we love her every day and that we will teach her each line of dialogue to “The Princess Bride.”
This all sounds pretty fantastic, right? And it is.
OK… so now Christmas just came and went (as it does each and every year). And my husband and I headed to his home state of Minnesota to visit his parents, light up the Christmas tree, and deck the halls as we have in years past. But… to turn a phrase from Jewish tradition… why was this year different from all other years? Well firstly, our 1-year-old joined us and… wait wait… you might want to hold onto your hat. Maybe invest in a chin strap for this… ready? My parents joined us. My Jewish parents from Long Island joined us to celebrate Christmas with my missionary in-laws in Minnesota.
Again, if my life were a sitcom, “they’d” say no way… the interfaith in-laws don’t get together over Christmas… that’s just not reality.
That was very much my reality. Was I nervous about it? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little anxious about how the room “felt” when we all joined hands to say a blessing over a meal in the name of Jesus. And yes, maybe I wondered if my parents would throw in a few extra Yiddish words to try to even the playing field.
In the end, all went well and the excitement of family being together overpowered the potential commercial break worthy drama that could have ensued.
Here were the Top 5 moments from our interfaith Christmas:
5. When my in-laws brought out their menorah so my parents could teach the kids the Hanukkah prayer.
4. Decorating the Christmas tree with everyone. Sure, we can decorate for Hanukkah, but there’s nothing like that Christmas tree and the story of what each ornament means and seeing the construction paper Jonah and the Whale ornament my husband made when he was 7.
3. Sitting around Christmas morning in pajamas. Monotheistic, Polytheistic, Atheist, or Agnostic… everyone can believe in waking up and not getting dressed.
2. Having the cousins, three under 3, all get together to enjoy the boxes that the presents came in more than the presents we all agonized over purchasing.
1. Seeing two sets of loving grandparents shower my little girl with love, affection, and Christmukkah gifts!