A Convert’s Hanukkah With Non-Jewish Relatives

As a fairly new convert to Judaism with many family members of the Catholic and Lutheran persuasion, the opportunity to experience the overlapping of Hanukkah and Christmas this year left me with a feeling of uncertainty. When it came to my Lutheran and Catholic in-laws, would “my” holiday be acknowledged by any or all of them? Would I spend the entire time with my in-laws explaining how Hanukkah is not actually “The Jewish Christmas”? Would I have to explain how a lunar calendar works?

I will first come out and admit that as a Jewish guy living in a household with an agnostic wife who loves Christmas for the decorative qualities and the music, we have a small, 3-foot holiday tree in our townhouse. I know that I may catch a lot of flak as a Jew for accommodating that, but “happy wife, happy life” is a mantra that I have learned I must live by. As part of the “can we raise our daughter as a Jew?” negotiations, the tree and her love of the secular qualities of the gentile holiday is something I had to agree to. I did slap a big Star of David on the top of it. Comment below if you must.

As for how this time of year is playing out in terms of my extended family:

My Catholic parents and sisters have all along been accommodating and enjoy learning more about my Jewish faith and practices in the time since I converted. My mom has bought me menorahs as gifts and Seder plates during Passover, among many other kind (and cute) gestures of acceptance. They always ask if I would like to say a Jewish blessing before meals when we are together. It has been an all-around positive experience. We visited them for the holidays the weekend before last and my mom, as usual, let me know that I am loved unconditionally, which helps to put my mind at ease.

My lapsed Lutheran and lapsed Catholic in-laws, are for the most part accepting from what I can tell. My mother-in-law did like to wish me a “Happy Yom Kippur” a few months back, which while I know she means well, is not really a greeting one gives someone on the most somber day of the year, but I digress. We have a weird relationship to begin with, so I will take what I can get.

As for my extended in-laws, like my wife’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, this holiday season was a “coming out as a Jew” experience for me, even though I have been Jewish now for close to two years. The overlapping of Hanukkah and Christmas this year brought my faith to the front of the line during the trip we took up to Alexandria this past weekend. My wife and I sent out a holiday card this year that said “Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas” so many who may have been living under a rock for the past couple years were informed that I am Jewish when they received our card. I fielded many questions about circumcision and many awkward sounding “Shalom” greetings.

What has made all of this worth it has been every evening since this past Saturday. Every evening my wife, 21-month old daughter, and I have gathered together in front of the menorah to say the blessing, light the candles, and open a gift. Our daughter loves it. It makes me confident that no matter what, I am doing a good job of instilling in her the Judaism she and I share.

Happy Hanukkah!