(Photo/Pixabay CC0)
(Photo/Pixabay CC0)

The kids are all grown up … and now I want Christmas!

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Dear Dawn: I am not Jewish; my wife is. When we spoke with the rabbi before our Jewish wedding, we said we would raise our children Jewish. He also asked if we planned to have Christmas, and my wife-to-be said no. I have never said anything to her, but I resent the promise she made and I always miss Christmas. We typically take a trip during the Christmas holiday season — Mexico or some other warm climate. Our children are now grown and married. I would like to have Christmas in our home. It wouldn’t be a religious Christmas, just a time at home remembering my youth — a tree, a big meal, holiday music. Do I raise this issue now or let it lie and just accept I gave up Christmas a long time ago? — Hurt Husband

Dear Hurt: I am sorry for your decades of suffering in silence, but now you must talk to your wife. This is an excellent time to begin since Christmas is 10 months away.

Plan your words in advance so you don’t just blast out your negative feelings. You do blame her and it’s important that’s not the first thing she takes in. You don’t want her in a defensive stance; you want her to be receptive to your feelings.

Start by saying you’ve never lost your love for Christmas. Tell her what you remember fondly — the lights, special foods, music. Then say having that experience at home will no longer influence the kids. Tell her you would like to experiment this coming December by having some of the things you yearn for.

While you have the right to demand this, you will enjoy it more if she embraces doing this for you.

My goal is for your wife to recognize your dedication to the plan she created for raising the kids Jewish, so point that out. She should feel grateful for all you have done. Now it is time for some reciprocity.

You two should approach this as an extended experiment. Neither of you know what you are comfortable with just yet, so create a plan so you’ll both know what to expect come December.

Afterward, evaluate the experience. Did it satisfy your longing? Was it awkward for her? Discuss. Make a new plan for December 2023. What worked? What should change? Get creative! How about a small tree in a hotel room in Hawaii? See if there are Christmas movies you both enjoy. Hold hands while listening to the many Christmas songs written by Jews.

Decide how to handle this with your extended family and close friends. What will your shared message be? The simple truth is you want to reenact some of your beloved childhood memories. If people probe, perhaps say, “It sounds like you either don’t understand or are not comfortable with our choices. That’s your prerogative. I’m afraid I don’t have any more to offer on the subject.”

Next, you need to tell your children. Simply say, “We wanted to give you a solidly Jewish home environment without introducing non-Jewish elements. However, now that we have launched you successfully, I want to have Christmas because I loved it as a child and want to relive some of those memories.” Be prepared to answer questions. Present a united voice with your wife that this is a decision you’ve made together for your own marriage, not for them or theirs.

Don’t cast their mother in a negative light. This is between you two, not up for scrutiny by them. If they wanted a tree at times, they may now feel upset you’re getting one. Remain firm in the message “we wanted to be sure you had a solely Jewish home” and that was accomplished.

Obviously, they can make their own choices with their spouses. Be prepared for that potentiality. You’d be surprised how influential you are, Dad.

Finally, wait until after you’ve had a Christmas together and she sees it doesn’t change the world. Then gently ask her if she recalls the pre-wedding meeting with the rabbi. She may not.

Then you can tell her your memory of her independent commitment you then supported. Say it was a hard moment for you, so hard you never forgot it.

Point out that obviously your love for her was more powerful and important than Christmas. Tell her you don’t want to keep things bottled up anymore and you promise to speak up sooner if you feel silenced again. Add that your happy marriage has greatly outweighed the bumps that every relationship experiences.

Dawn Kepler
Dawn Kepler

Dawn Kepler leads Building Jewish Bridges, a program that embraces Bay Area interfaith families. “Mixed & Matched” offers advice for Jews in interfaith relationships and families. Send letters to [email protected].