Every year, my visceral need to decorate and rotate seasonal adornments onto shelves, mantels, and tabletops comes to a sad and screeching halt after Thanksgiving. I replace the gourds, candles, haystacks, lanterns, and mums with Hanukkah paraphernalia and breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have Christmas to deal with.
This year as I put away the last menorah, I wondered if I sighed with relief or resignation. My “seasonal closet,” stocked with beads, leaves, fruits, table runners, vases, candles, and jars for all occasions, is devoid of Christmas cheer.
I’ve always admitted to a bit of Christmas envy—only from a home decor standpoint—but being a single-faith family, this never became an issue. I get my fix by helping my friends decorate their trees and volunteer for ornament removal and storage duty. It’s not a chore when you don’t have your own mess waiting at home and when it’s accompanied by wine, friendship, and, well, beautiful stuff.
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When my kids were little we celebrated eight crazy nights with so many gifts, pomp, and circumstance that no one had a chance to even think about Christmas. We rationalized that we were in the throes of shaping their Jewish identities and that it was imperative that they only celebrate and embrace our traditions. As our family (and our perspective) grew, the traditions of non-Jewish family members and friends made their way into our lives.
This year my 14-year-old daughter who possesses a highly developed sense of taste and style (much to my budget’s chagrin) suggested that we deck the house out for the holidays.
“But we don’t celebrate Christmas,” I protested, sort of meekly. Without missing a beat, she clarified that she was referring to a “winter theme.” Clever. What’s the harm in some fragrant greenery, lights and candles…?
My daughter watched closely for a chink in my armor. All that child needs when faced with a potential shopping spree is one little signal and she’s in the car.
“We can just go browse for festive winter things like pine cones and garlands, which have nothing to do with Christmas,” she said, employing logic that leaves me speechless even after years of practicing law. “And we can get you a latte on the way.” Boy, she’s good.
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My inner Martha Stewart sat on one shoulder, while years of strict upbringing and preaching the party line sat on the other, duking it out. I had always thought that if I married within the faith, we would face none of the issues that mixed-faith families face. After all, we only celebrate Jewish holidays in this house. I thought this ensured that my kids would never be confused…But now I’m confused and wondering if I’m letting form over substance guide my spirituality.
In the end, I defaulted to my usual answer when biding time: Let me get back to you. It’s not like we’re pressured by the Advent calendar…
The more I thought about it, though, the fewer cons I could come up with. If some greenery, candles, and festive baubles can corrupt my family’s moral or spiritual fiber, then we have much bigger problems. Besides, green, red, and gold suit my house far better than blue and silver…
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There are those who will argue that I’m insane for not coming to this conclusion years ago, and those who will say that I’m sliding down a slippery slope. For now, our family has found its decorative sweet spot. Let’s not make more out of this than necessary (she said as she slid all the way down).