How do I handle giving up Christmas for my Jewish partner?
By any chance, are you sleeping with Moishe le Grinch? Your partner needs a swift kick from Santa’s boot and a night sleeping in the crèche.
OK, that wasn’t very Christian of me. Or Jewish, Muslim, Quaker, Mormon, or Gefiltianistic of me. After all, I think, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,” gets a cameo in every religious tract, doesn’t it?
Here’s the thing. I know we’re in the final countdown until Dasher and Blitzen get here, but it’s never too late to sit down and discuss what Christmas means to you, and how you’d like to celebrate together. You should also hear your partner out on why Christmas is a no-go for him/her.
Did you ever play that we-have-five-more-hours-in-the-car-what-are-we-going-to-do game called I’m Going on a Picnic? There are lots of variations of it, I’m sure, but the way we play it in the Gefilte minivan is by saying:
I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing along…
a Cheetah named Luigi
The idea is to get each person you’re traveling with to take the next letter in the alphabet and add to your list of picnic supplies.
NSM, you are on this crazy ride of life with a Jewish partner. So it’s time to decide what you want to take along with you, and why.
For instance, do you really love having a fresh fir tree from the rotary club? The felt stockings stuffed with bubble bath pods? Are you someone who loves hearing carolers or gets shivery at midnight mass? Socks with treads and steamed eggnog?
Figuring this out is really the hardest part of growing up—besides the hair in the armpits thing, which I still find miraculous yet terrifying. NSM, you are taking on a huge task and it’s thorny at times. It is so challenging to share some of your past while making a new and unknown future.
I’ll tell you a little story about my failed attempts at this discussion. When Mr. Gefilte and I were planning our wedding, we had a very emotional talk about what music to play. He wanted to walk down the aisle to the classic crowd-pleaser, “99 Problems” by Jay-Z. For those unfamiliar with the lyrics, the chorus is:
If you’re havin’ girl problems I feel bad for you son
I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.
Mr. Gefilte insisted that if we played just the opening chords or even an instrumental version, people would find it hilarious and creative.
I said no.
He asked why not?
I said my Uncle Murray would recognize the opening chords and be offended.
Just a little backstory: My Uncle Murray was 84 at the time, and while he was hip enough to wear bolo ties and fanny packs and shop at Fairway for olives, there was no way he’d know who Jay-Z was. But Uncle Mur was the elder statesman of my family since both my parents were already gone, and that was really what I was balking at. I desperately wanted my parents’ approval of this marriage, and I didn’t know how to start this new phase of my life without them there.
So I suggested that instead of Jay-Z, we commence the festivities with “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang. The chorus to that song is:
Celebrate good times, come on!
Pretty innocuous, I thought. Pretty corny, Mr. Gefilte said.
When I asked why we couldn’t use it, he answered, “Because that’s not your favorite song. That’s your mom’s favorite song.”
Touche, Monsieur Poissonballe.
Here’s a beautiful thought from Buddhist nun and guru, Pema Chodron:
“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”
NSM, you can start with looking into your partner’s forehead or even shoulder girdle. Just somewhere near the face. And ask things like:
Why do you light Hankukah candles?
Why do you fast on Yom Kippur?
Why do you keep gefiltes jarred for years when they just want to run free?
And then let your partner come back to you with some why questions about your own practices and beliefs. Warning: These can take years to answer, even with an emotional thesaurus.
Hopefully, once you’ve explored the socratic method long enough, you can find some traditions to bring along, and some to surrender. And maybe you can make up new ones together that encompass the ideals of both your upbringings. For instance:
-serve a turkey dinner at a soup kitchen
-give away old ornaments to neighbors as gifts
-get a jar and fill it with wishes for your partner in the new year
-reenact Star Wars for the extended family
-make a Jay-Z/Kool & the Gang playlist and belt it out
Whatever you do, dear NSM, please make sure to bring along:
an Ear candle, and
Figgy Pudding, whatever that is.
Happy Merry Healthy Jolly!
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might just get an answer.