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Interfaith Family Dilemma: To Tree or Not to Tree?

As a Christmas-loving Jew, I felt a secret thrill when I married a nice Catholic boy. At last, I had an excuse to festoon my home with boughs of fragrant evergreen, to put up an actual Christmas tree.

My husband, on the other hand, had mixed feelings. Though Stephen is Catholic, he’s about as lapsed as lapsed can be; when we met he hadn’t had a tree in his apartment for years. But I cajoled and promised to craft interfaith decorations, and eventually he agreed. For our first few years together, we’d erect a small tree and turn it into the most secular, homespun symbol possible. Our topper: a Jewish star made from gold paper.

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But when I got pregnant, that decision took on a greater significance. We agreed before we got married that we’d raise our children Jewish—I grew up more religious than Stephen did, and I still feel a pretty deep connection to Judaism. With an actual kid in the picture, having a Christmas tree felt wrong. Wouldn’t it confuse him? Wasn’t it sending mixed signals? We packed away our paper chains and Magen David topper and kept our home Hanukkah-focused. Santa still found our little boy every year, but at his grandparents’, where we’d celebrate Christmas.

Part of me wants to rush out and buy gold paper for the new topper, to turn that into our new family tradition.

That’s worked pretty well for us. We let him believe in Santa—we didn’t want him to spill the beans to his Catholic cousins. (At 8 years old, he now seems to be playing along with the ruse more than actually believing.) Amazingly, he never questioned why his Jewish cousins had to miss out. But lately he’s been asking for a Christmas tree. Begging for one, even a tiny potted shrub to put on top of his dresser. And I’m not sure why, but I’m ready to say yes.

Yesterday I broached the subject with my husband and discovered he’d been getting the hard sell from junior, too. Kiddo’s best friend is also interfaith and he’s got a tree, so why can’t we? As much as I hate to feel swayed by peer pressure, the old chestnut about how different families have different traditions seemed lame. When I was a kid, I was sooo jealous of my interfaith friends, who got to have eight nights of Hanukkah plus a Christmas tree. Our son already celebrates both holidays. Maybe we should use our combined faiths to create some new traditions for our home.

We agreed that Stephen would pick up a small potted tree on his way home last night. I pulled out the battered, dusty box of decorations—the paper chain I made years ago is still in there, but the topper seems to have vanished. "Good," I thought. "An excuse to craft a new one with kiddo."

In the evening Stephen sent texts, updating me on his quest. I got my camera ready to capture the look of delight on junior’s face when he saw the surprise. And then the phone rang: It was my husband. He’d found a store selling the potted mini-trees, but they were $40 and clearly intended to be transferred to the ground after the holidays. We live in an apartment. They weren’t really suitable for what we’d been picturing.

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I re-stowed the decorations and took comfort in the fact that I hadn’t told our son about the plan. He wouldn’t be disappointed, though I certainly was.

Now we’re back to square one, debating whether or not to go all-in and get a real-deal tree. Part of me wants to rush out and buy gold paper for the new topper, to turn that into our new family tradition, but then I wonder if last night’s bust was some kind of sign.

What would you do?

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