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Holiday Overload in My Jewish and Christian Family

I’m a minimalist. I prefer my backyard to Disneyland. I prefer low-key everything, especially when it comes to my kids, because they seem to be happier. It's also easier for me, so I’m happier.

I was brought up Christian, and my husband was brought up Jewish. Ours is an interfaith home, two religions, two sets of traditions. Hardly minimalist.

This is a long post about how we got to where we are now, 15 years after our first date. But let me first break down the last 24 hours for you, so you can have some insight into what my life is like being in this interfaith marriage.

Yesterday: Husband and I go over, once again, the game plan. Chanukah presents first and closing night. All other nights we just light candles. On one night, it has become a tradition for the kids to give away a toy of theirs to charity.

I go online and buy some presents for Christmas. I debate on how many stocking stuffers I should buy. I start to wrap presents yesterday and get anxious. I decide to mediate instead.

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I try to count who has what, again. Very few presents from us, but we’ve got three kids, so I need to keep the numbers equal.

This morning I volunteered at my kids’ school, which is a reformed Jewish Temple in the heart of Los Angeles. My 3-year-old sings a song in Hebrew. The only part I can understand is, “We give thanks to God for bread” and “Amen.” During "Attitude of Gratitude" hour, those gathered said a prayer that, again, I didn't know the words to. But when the school director told us Shiksas it essentially meant, "Thank you, God, for returning my soul to my body for another day," I'm grateful. I was filled with ease.

Despite the two different ways Judaism and Christinaity go about their religious selves, they view and value God and that's my comfort zone. I found some gratitude this morning, under all the business and different kinds of wrapping paper I buy, and that's what matters to me.

Still, I wonder if it’s strange to my 60-year-old mom to have her granddaughter singing Hebrew.

After school, I pick up my three kids and go straight to one of our outdoor malls to look at the lights. I hate malls, but this is an outdoor one. We park at the indoor one first, and I notice the line for the Santa Claus is non-existent. We get in line. There's a little house, covered in TVs, where we're supposed to wait. They get us inside and shut the door. It’s hot, and the elf says we’ll be here for 15 minutes. One guy speaks for me and says, “We have to stand here for 15 minutes? I’m claustrophobic.”

My 3-year-old starts screaming.

I yelled at my son, “If you don’t stop whining, I swear to God I’ll take back your presents.”

We go to another room, while I put my 8-year-old in charge of my 4-year-old. We meet up with them and then go and see Santa in another room. He’s a great Santa. My 8-year-old has told all of us that Santa is not real. Yet he lights up.

Afterwards, while waiting for the pictures, my 4-year-old screams out, “Happy Chanukah.” An elf starts to laugh and says, "That’s great." Then he asks how Santa Claus got involved with Christianity anyways.

I remember that last night, while driving home in the dark with Christmas music, my son said, "These songs are about Jesus."

"Yes," I agreed, "they are because Christmas is the day he was born."

A few years ago, when he was much younger, he told our nanny, “My mom thinks Jesus is the son of God. My dad thinks he was just a great guy.”

We got our picture and then walked over to the outside mall.

We stared at the colorful fountain.

My 4-year-old blurted out, “God is not real!”

"Yes he is," I responded.

“Well, I won’t believe it until I meet him.”

We then walked over to Barnes & Noble. The kids were going on too little food and not enough sleep. My 8-year-old whined for a magazine. I lost it and said, "It’s Chanukah next week, and Christmas after that!"

I felt frustrated that no matter how hard I seem to try, in the last few years the holidays just seem to swallow me up.

I worried that people would think we were spoiled, not knowing how much thought goes into all of this. I yelled at my son, “If you don’t stop whining, I swear to God I’ll take back your presents.” It was a bad moment. I was really yelling at myself. I felt frustrated that no matter how hard I seem to try, in the last few years the holidays just seem to swallow me up. My son and I made up.

When we pulled into the driveway I said, "Guys, I’m sorry I yelled. I really had fun with you."

We showed my husband the picture of the kids with Santa. He smiled.

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I told my oldest tonight that he did many good mitzvahs while at the mall. That means good deeds. I feel like a fraud when using the word but I want to incorporate what they are all learning.

We are all still learning.

Image by Lindsay Kavet

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