The Imperfect Way I'm Blending Christmas & Hanukkah for My New Baby


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My partner, Carl, and I are about to celebrate our first holiday season with our baby. And like everything in our lives as parents -- including getting pregnant in the first place -- we haven't really planned the whole thing out in advance.

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Carl and I come from different backgrounds. He was raised "culturally Jewish." He had a bar mitzvah, received presents for Hanukkah, and, in the tradition of many great Jewish intellectuals, currently calls himself an atheist. I was raised with Christmas and Easter, but all I knew about the New Testament came from Jesus Christ Superstar. Suffice it to say, we are not people of great faith. So it's somewhat of a surprise to both of us that our first holiday season with a child is bringing up old family traditions that are more important to us than we'd realized.

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We are eager to exchange gifts, make food, and invite our families into our growing home. I'm looking forward to slowly accumulating our unique family decorations over the years. But it is more through contrasts than commonalities that we are really learning about each other's holidays. I was shocked that Carl didn't know the words to "Silent Night," and he has been laboriously teaching me a Hebrew prayer I can't quite get the hang of. 

Last year was Carl's and my first holiday season together, and all Christmas meant to me at the time was an opportunity for cheap airfare. We had dinner with my mom and brothers on Christmas Eve, and, just because it happened to coincide with Hanukkah, we had Carl light a candle. I had never heard him speak Hebrew before, and I was surprised by how ingrained the prayers were in his memory.

I fantasize about seeing our son, Desmond, dressed up for a Christmas pageant, and also hearing him speak with ease the very Hebrew I'm struggling with. But the truth is, we're fumbling our way through this first blending of holidays just as we're fumbling our way through parenthood. 

I recently got my first menorah, and in true New York style, we bought a five-foot tree at a deli and a set of ornaments at a dollar store. We thought that 75 lights would be more than enough -- what do I know? I haven't been around a child on Christmas since I was one myself. (I do know, though, that it was a noob move for Carl to put the star on top of the tree before all the ornaments were on.) We're also having friends over for Hanukkah and that means we're lighting candles, saying prayers, and eating the blintzes we've had in the freezer since the last time Carl's mother visited. We'll see if that turns into a tradition in its own right.

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Despite our agnosticism and laissez-faire attitude, we do want our child to have a spiritual life. A few weeks ago we went to temple services in our neighborhood in Brooklyn, and we've been hemming and hawing about finding a good time to make it to church as well. When we go to places of worship we see family unity, meditative reflection, and service to others -- values we want our son to share. 

But along with new traditions come new anxieties. I'm not sure yet what we'll do about Santa or how to buy my son eight gifts for Hanukkah. (At this point Amazon must know me better than I know myself -- can I just pick one, and Amazon's algorithms can handle the next seven?) I'm not sure how we'll budget for both holidays or which side of the family we'll visit when. I'm certainly not sure if I should project any of my discomfort with the materialistic aspects of the season, or, even bigger, my skepticism about theism in general.

Faith means different things to different people. But ever since I saw that plus-sign on the Duane Reade–brand pregnancy test -- surprise! -- and knew that suddenly there was a child in my life whom I would love forever, I have had one thing to keep me going through all the uncertainty: faith that the next right thing would reveal itself, one day at a time. And I am lucky that this is the kind of faith that my partner and I have always shared.

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