Coming To Terms With Christmas
For those of you who don't know me... I was raised Jewish (conservative), became a negative atheist shortly after my Bar Mitzvah, married a Catholic 10 years ago, and I'm now on The Board of our UU church. My reaction to all things surrounding Christmas has gone from jealously, to hatred, to silence and finally to acceptance.
Growing up Jewish in the Midwest (70's & 80's) was a somewhat isolating experience. Sure there was a "Jewish Community" in my town, I interacted with it once a week at Hebrew school and a few times a year during the High Holidays. For the uninitiated, Hebrew school is the Jewish equivalent of CCD or Wednesday night church school. I don't remember much... other than the fact I have absolutely no ability to learn foreign languages. Christmas-time was pretty painful. Everywhere I went (except at our Synagogue), I was reminded that I was different and an outsider. I never felt discriminated against, though, and I cannot remember any insensitive comments concerning my religion. I do remember thinking that 'those Christians seem to enjoy Christmas more than I enjoy Hanukkah.'
In junior high and high school I was a devout and in-your-face atheist. I was especially hostile toward Christians and Christmas-time brought out some of my strongest feelings. Any Christmas song, decoration or greeting set me off and many times would trigger a snide comment or, at the least, an eye-roll. My attitude toward Judaism was disinterested tolerance out of respect for my family.
I met my wife in college and very quickly had to deal with the mixed feelings of being madly in love with a Catholic woman. I think meeting and loving my wife has been one of the key turning points for my Christmas attitude. We have spent almost every Christmas with her family for almost 15 years and I've been able to see Christmas from the 'inside'. Other than attending Christmas Mass, it's a pretty secular event at their household. This fact led me to my first self-revelation - my disliking (no... hatred) of Christmas had not been rooted in religion - it was a manifestation of isolation.
Having children was the next major event that changed my attitudes. Once my daughter was old enough to understand the holidays and our unique family situation, I became very aware of my outward Christmas reaction and I had to make a conscious decision not to denigrate Christmas in front of my daughter. At this same time, my friendship with my token Mormon and Evangelical friends blossomed and I came to really respect their faith. My second self-revelation? Nobody was isolating me, I was isolating myself.
My daughter's coming of Santa-age also, unfortunately, coincided with the nihilist destruction of 9/11. Up to that point, I was a moderate Democrat. I remember talking to one of my conservative friends on 9/11 and remarking that although I had voted for Gore, I was glad Republicans were 'in charge' during a crisis of that magnitude. In the following year, I gradually realized that I had outgrown the Democrat party and my aversion to Christian conservatives.
I now find myself having more in common with the Christian Coalition than the Rainbow Coalition. When I decided to open my ears and actually listen to those on the Right, I found them much more inclusive and intellectually vibrant than the always-offended Left.
The bottom line is that my acceptance and friendship with Christians has led me to accept Christmas as an important and joyous holiday for parts of my family, some of my closest friends and 95% of my country.