Last week, my eighty-one year old mother-in-law hung her very first Christmas ornament ever. Being Jewish, she’d never had an opportunity, and perhaps never a desire, to hang an ornament before. She sat in her chair watching me unpack my memories from boxes and offered to help. She oohed and aahed over all of the Christmas decorations and ornaments I’ve collected over the years. Presents from students, co-workers, and even her, brought exclamations of delight as the tissue paper fell away to reveal each trinket inside.
I told a few stories about some of the items and pushed buttons on ornaments that sang songs or made noise. We talked briefly about my childhood and decorating for the holidays back then. As I continued to unpack, the dreidel and the menorah made their way to their yearly spot on the top of the grand piano, and the Hanukkah tree ornaments looked perfectly at home and right in their usual spaces.
I reminisced about the first ornament my daughter made me 28 years ago as I gingerly rested it on the tree. It was really more of a pin, made of two puffballs, a red scarf, black hat, and a few glue spots where buttons used to be. I hung macaroni wreaths and snowflakes with pictures of the boys when they were small. I even hung a few ornaments gifted to us by my husband’s ex-wife. When the last decoration found its home for the holiday season, I stepped back to view our handiwork, and took satisfaction that everything belonged exactly where it landed.
As I smoothed out the table cloths and coverings, I thought of all of the “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Happy Holidays!” arguments this time of year brings about. I chuckled to myself that some of these people would have a fit if they saw the blending of our faiths and families present in my house. When people ask what religion we are, I tell them we are Cashews, Catholic-Jews.
This time of year always brings up the pang of religion for me. Since moving to the south, I haven’t found a church to call home, mainly because the churches I have tried aren’t as accepting of those who are “different.” I have rainbows hanging in my house, and the last thing I’m going to do is join a church that finds fault with rainbows. So when I decorate for Christmas, I wonder if I’m being hypocritical. Though I understand that Christmas trees and decorations have a Pagan origin, they have come to symbolize a Christian religion, the birth of Jesus, and everything that entails.
My house represents an amalgamation of religions and ideologies.
My Catholic guilt seeps in and I wonder if somehow I am betraying my faith and the notion of “Keep Christ in Christmas” as my crucifix hangs out next to my menorah, but I can’t help but smile with tenderness as I think about my Jewish mother-in-law hanging her first ornament on my Christmas tree.
Perhaps the whole purpose of this season is to remember our humanity. We give more, help more, and most of us are kinder and more patient this time of year. Maybe that’s the true purpose of remembering Christ’s birth. He accepted all, loved all, and encouraged his followers to follow suit. When I think about it, I wonder if Christ might be smiling at the blending of religions, families, and ideologies that adorn my house.
Huh, now that’s something for me to think about.
In the meantime, from my house to yours, Happy Cashew Day!
To read more of Elaina’s Letters, click here.