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My Interfaith Marriage Taught Me the Meaning of Christmas

Photograph by Twenty20

I have never been a big fan of arbolitos.

Let me rephrase that; I love seeing Christmas trees and decorations in other people's homes, but I don't enjoy doing it myself. Taking all the decorations out, keeping the lucecitas from becoming an entangled mess and always feeling like I don't have enough ornaments is not my thing; and the thought of having to take it all down a month later kept my house arbolito-free for a long time.

In my early twenties, my friends used to make fun of me during the holiday season and compare me to the Grinch! Ana, one of my closest friends, always asked what I would do once I got married and had kids.

A couple of years later I answered her question by marrying a man that practiced a different religion.

The man I fell in love captivated me with his intelligence, the crazy amount of knowledge he carries around; and his total adoration of his country's culture. I fell in love with the fact that this man made me defy the stereotypes in my head. He is Mexican, he is six feet tall, he spent part of his childhood living in Europe, he speaks three languages, he is usually asked if he is from the Middle East and he is Jewish. We've heard "but you don't look like a Mexican," or "what do you mean you're a Mexican Jew?" too many times to count.

I'm Colombian and Catholic. Like in every bicultural relationship our cultures mixed and there were compromises. We make arepas and tortillas. Pork and super spicy foods are not present in our kitchen. Our house is protected by both a Mezuzah in every doorframe and a Virgen María painting hanging on the wall.

I honestly thought that Christmas decorations wouldn't even be a discussion. So imagine my surprise when during our first holiday season together he asked, "when are we getting our Christmas tree?"

"You celebrate Christmas?" I asked.

"I love the decorations, the parties, the presents and the Christmas tree," he told me.

"But you are Jewish!" I said.

He said, "Even if it's not your birthday, you can join in and enjoy the party!" My husband explained to me how he had always liked Christmas decorations. I wish I could say we got a tree that year, but we didn't — not that year, nor for many years that followed.

The topic of Christmas trees and religion didn't come up until I was pregnant, when one day while doing the dishes in our tiny kitchen, my husband asked, referring to religion, "How are we going to raise our son?"

"To be a man of faith," I said, and he agreed.

"And will we have a tree now?" he asked. I answered the same thing I had told my friend years earlier. "No, man! And he won't notice."

Five years later, my son asked me if we were going to have a Christmas tree. Still not a big fan of Christmas trees, I got a little pre-lit one and placed it on the porch. I took a picture of our Charlie Brown tree and sent it to my friend Ana. She text messaged me back: "Finally!"

I watched my husband and my son trim the tree, just like I had watched them light a menorah earlier to celebrate Hanukkah, and in that magical moment I understood that my meaning of Christmas is all about family and love — whether you have a tree or celebrate Christmas religiously or not. We don't have to fit any particular societal or religious mold, so long as we're together during the holidays.

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