All Americans do Easter, right? .... Right? (Photo/
All Americans do Easter, right? .... Right? (Photo/

Christmas and Easter are American holidays — aren’t they?

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Dear Dawn: I’m trying to understand my Jewish girlfriend’s desire to not have American holidays, which she says are Christian. I said that I’m willing to do the Jewish holidays in our home along with the regular American holidays of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, etc. Everyone does them! When we have kids, they’ll be exposed to both. She thinks that will detract from them developing a solid Jewish identity. Can you help us sort this out? — Puzzled Non-Christian

Dear Puzzled: Good for you for trying to understand your partner’s viewpoint without rancor. Just as you state, the holidays you list are quite American. We get those days off as federal holidays.

But now take a deeper look: What is the root of each of those holidays?

While Independence Day is a government holiday, Christmas and Easter are Christian holidays instituted to celebrate some aspect of Jesus as God. Even Thanksgiving was originally conceived as a religious holiday.

You say that “everyone does” these holidays. But, in fact, that’s not true. Only Americans celebrate the Fourth of July. As for the other three, most Americans observe them, but hundreds of thousands of Americans don’t. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism are religions that do not.

Like many members of the dominant American Christian culture, you are perceiving these holidays as an insider. This is the way your world works and it feels surprising that others have quite different worldviews. You are the fish swimming with millions of other fish and finding the air-breathers to be odd.

You are both right and wrong.

Yes, minority traditions are “odd” in that they deviate from the American mainstream. But you are not opening your mind to the idea that these different ways of life are normal for those who are living them. Just as you feel no desire to start observing, say, Ramadan, most people don’t want to celebrate holidays that are not theirs.

Your Jewish girlfriend wants to retain her unique way of life rather than entirely assimilating into American culture. This is information you need to consider. Is she right for you? It sounds like your disagreement did not lead to in-depth conversations to explore how each of you feels about your respective traditions.

Apparently you have begun discussing children. You should certainly sort out your conflicting views of your home’s identity before you introduce kids. Children raised in the United States definitely will be exposed to Christianity. That’s a given.

Whether they will be taught about Judaism is a choice. It sounds like your girlfriend wants an unequivocally Jewish home.

Studies have shown there are three key behaviors that support a child developing a confident Jewish identity: 1, A Jewish education, typically received at home and in a synagogue community. You can’t “do” Jewish if you don’t know how. 2, Home practice. Living as a Jew makes practice familiar and easy. 3, Jewish friends. Seeing peers practicing Judaism establishes that it is normative.

Think about it this way: Your girlfriend wants her home to be a Jewish sanctuary from the non-Jewish world.

I’ve seen non-Jewish spouses react in different ways. Some say that they are willing to have their home be entirely Jewish, except for … and then they have a request. Others have told me that they want their home to be a refuge for their Jewish spouse, a private Jewish environment.

Think about what I’ve told you and please have a heart-to-heart talk with your girlfriend. It’s time to put all the cards on the table. What does each of you feel is essential to your happiness?

Don’t beat yourselves up for not knowing how to approach this issue. You are both living with your own sensibilities and experiences. If you don’t know what questions you should be asking, it is impossible to get answers.

When I am working with a couple, I have a series of questions that we address that allows them to ferret out unspoken (and sometimes unrealized) concerns and questions. How can you work on an issue if you can’t even formulate it in your mind or articulate it to your partner? Put on your work clothes. This will take effort, but it will be worth it.

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].