By itself, Christmas is not that important to me. My grandma and I just exchange books and eat fried foods. But recently, Christmas has become kinda confusing.
For the past two years, I’ve had a great time spending it with my partner and his family. But I’ve also been hyper-conscious and defensive about the fact that we celebrate this Christian holiday together, despite the fact that I identify as Jewish. I firmly believe in anti-assimilation, and I hate the ways that Christianity (and capitalist consumption) is imposed upon everyone in America during the month of December.
When my friends and I talk about Christmas, we often discuss how rejecting Christmas in its entirety is an important part of Jewish people resisting assimilation. In many ways, I agree with that idea. So sometimes celebrating Christmas feels like I’m a hypocrite — betraying both my community and my beliefs. I also get pissed and defensive when my critics (yes, I weirdly have critics) use my partner’s family Christmas pictures as proof that I’m practicing Christianity in secret.
But recently, I’ve come to terms with the fact that Christmas is an integral part of the life that my partner and I have built together. I can’t give it up, because in many ways, giving up Christmas would mean rejecting my partner and his family.
During the holidays, my partner loves to spend time with his mom, dad, and sister. We all wrap presents, eat snacks, watch movies, and go to cutesy events like Zoo Lights. Members of his extended family also flood into his mom’s house to reunite and celebrate. Meeting them helps me to have a deeper understanding of my partner and his values.
I would never want him to feel like he had to reduce his time with his family because of me, and I wouldn’t want to separate myself from the people that we both care about. That would be incredibly lonely for both of us, and I know that it would have a harmful impact on our relationship.
My partner and I also plan on having kids together someday. Refusing to let our future children fully participate in Christmas would make them feel alienated from the rest of their family, and I wouldn’t want them to feel that sense of alienation.
I have another, more selfish reason for not wanting to give up Christmas completely. In Colorado, the Jew of Color community feels pretty much non-existent. I have one friend who is Black and Jewish. And neither of us feel very comfortable or welcome in Jewish spaces that lack racial diversity. I’m also 2,000 miles away from my family and friends, where I was able to celebrate Hanukkah with all the people I love.
But my partner and his family are the only family I have out here, and we’ve come to celebrate the holidays — all holidays — together, like Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Spending Christmas with my partner’s family isn’t just about catering to his needs, but it’s also about fulfilling my own need for familial connection. Also, the black community in Colorado comes together during Christmas. In fact, on Saturday, we are going to a holiday ball that honors the achievements of black high school students. When you live in an area filled with folks who don’t look like you, these moments of community and connection with other black people are sacred. If I swore off Christmas, it would be harder to access those moments.
Don’t get me wrong: The obligatory and assumptive way that Christmas is celebrated still often makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like feeling forced to say “Merry Christmas!” back to strangers. I don’t like the fact that “holiday” parties at work are basically Christmas parties. I don’t like all the weirdos who try to cram “Jesus is the reason for the season” pamphlets down my throat. I don’t like Christmas carols and I fucking hate it when people say that Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas.
And yet, I also recognize that Christmas is deeply important to my partner and his family. My identity is important to me. But my identity is unchanged by the fact that I love sharing these experiences with his family.