Lately, my conversations with my mom have gone a little like this:
Mom: “I sure would love to come out and visit again.”
Me: “I’d love for you to see western Washington in the fall.”
Mom: “I’d really love to come out and celebrate Christmas with you.”
Me: “No more Christmases for me, remember?”
Mom: *sounds of crying into her iPhone*
Mom: “I saw the cutest thing I wanted to buy you for Christmas, and then I remembered that I couldn’t…”
Me: “Hanukkah starts on Christmas Eve this year, Mom. You can buy gifts if you want.”
Mom: *cheerfully* Okay!
For the most part – outwardly, anyway - my mom seems to be okay with my impending conversion to Judaism from lifelong Christianity. She knows that I’m celebrating Jewish holidays this year, learning to live as Jew before I take the big mikveh plunge next year, and she seems supportive, although I know she’s uncomfortable over that whole “rejection of Jesus” thing. She handles the conversations about it fine, even asking questions about certain aspects of Jewish belief and expressing doubts of her own with Christian theology that bubble up during our conversations. But when the topic turns to holidays and Christmas, specifically, her calm and accepting demeanor cracks a little.
Holidays have always been big in my family. Middle class from middle America meant that we loved Christmas. I have wonderful Christmas memories of parents who went all out; who made everybody else’s visits from Santa look puny in comparison to our deliveries from the Big Guy. The presents were artfully staged, unwrapped (because Santa didn’t wrap our presents like he did for some of my friends for some weird reason) and sparkling in the shimmery tree lights. Right down to the sooty boot print on the hearth, our parents presented us with memorable and authentic Christmases.
The thing is that, now, Christmas isn’t my thing. 2014 was the last time I celebrated the holiday. I boycotted it in 2015 and this year, I’ll be celebrating Hanukkah for the first time. I’m getting ready to put my 7-foot pre-lit Christmas tree and all my decorations, except for the sentimental ones, up for sale. I’m done with the red and green and the reindeer and all the trappings that come with the holiday, but Mom seems to take it personally, like my rejection of Christianity and the holidays contained within are somehow a rejection of her and Dad.
How does one assure her mother that her choices are her own and not reflective of anything else?
My decision to become Jewish has nothing to do with my parents or upbringing. My family houses both the best of Christianity – my maternal grandparents – and the worst – my two aunts. I see Christian love, grace, and charity just as much as I see Christian judgement, hate, and close-mindedness. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Ya know what? Today I’m going to reject a lifetime of doctrine and theology and embrace something I don’t yet completely understand!”
The choice to become Jewish has been years in the making. Point by point, I’ve been divorcing myself from Christianity for a long time. From never being able to embrace the veneration of Mary during my Catholic days to struggling with accepting the theology of the Trinity, I’ve had long arguments with Christianity. It was just that, last fall, as we moved into our new home in our new community and it was time to start the church search again, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t walk into one more church and sit down in one more pew and pretend that I believed. That moment of realization was probably one of the most honest moments I’ve ever had with myself. And it’s changed my life.
As I prepare for the upcoming Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I do so with an open heart. I have no ill will toward my former faith, my parents, or the Christian aspects of my past. If anything, they’ve made me more well-rounded and ensure that I’m ready to take this next step. I’m sorry that my mother is sad about the loss of Christmas with her daughter, but I’ll still celebrate it with her. I will light a menorah in my home, but I’ll send gifts and appreciate the Christmas cards and even hang up the few ornaments that my mom has made for me over the years. I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I can 100% honor my past by being excited for my very different future. I just hope that Mom can get there, too.
Note: this was also published on my blog.
Published by Rachel Hayden