Standing before friends and family in December 2012 humming my Bar Mitzvah Torah portion in mediocre Hebrew, you would have had a better chance of convincing me an apocalypse of some sort would occur than the idea I’d believe in Jesus nine years later. But here we are.
As the only self-proclaimed Christian in a secular Jewish family, I’ve had to carve out my own Christmas experience. Last year with my mother, this year my older sister too.
It’s Christmas and all — and it’s a cheerful time — but the whole thing can be frustrating. As someone with a non-Christian family not necessarily thrilled about the idea of conversion, you see people you know having a festive, attractive, and sophisticated experience that is distant. Decorations, ornate trees, dishes, families gathered and endlessly smiling, and so on. They are showcasing traditions you did not grow up with and never witnessed as a kid. Envy sets in.
For others who may have recently found Christ, and are now navigating how to do Christmas with their non-believing families, here are some tips through things I’ve learned in the past few years. Hopefully, this can be of use for other retired Jews, or otherwise, whose families may look at them like out-of-place converts rocking the boat or just have no idea what is going on.
Get To Services
It may seem obvious but it’s vital to be like other like-minded worshippers during Christmas — especially given your family members are not believers.
Get in touch with members from your congregation and figure out when services will be held. If you don’t have a congregation, try not to be picky with the denomination. You don’t really have that luxury.
Ensuring you get to church, and making it clear to family members that you will be attending, gets the ball rolling for the holiday. Your church may even have other events going on, such as advent activities or community outreach opportunities. Seek these out and maximize your time out.
Perhaps another churchgoer will invite you over. There is nothing wrong with communicating to people that your family is non-Christian to be invited to their own homes for celebrations and so forth. People understand these sorts of things, I’ve found. People like Dave, an elderly man at my church who has taken me under his wing when I’m not at college.
By putting Christ and church at the center of Christmas, you center yourself. Make this a priority and pray with other believers.
Be Communicative, But Flexible
If your family loves you — and hopefully they do given you elected to spend Christmas with them — they will understand that you wish to take Christmas seriously. Make this clear, in addition to the notion that your belief in Christ is not some trivial phase or fad. (Maybe it is, who knows).
Plan a dinner. This is where asking other Christians for ideas comes into play. What sort of traditions do their families undertake, and how can you do something similar? What dishes can you make or assist with, while not burdening relatives?
Think about reading scripture before the meal. I went to UPS and printed copies of Luke 2, Matthew 2, Psalm 107, and the Lord’s Prayer. Put the copies next to the dinner plates.
At the same time, it’s crucial to be flexible. In my case, this is all new for my family. My mom gets the fact that I want to have a Christmas experience and has tried her best as a lifelong Jew to help shape this. It is quite foreign to her. She grew up in Lakewood, New Jersey, on a chicken farm surrounded by rabbis.
My sister, on the other hand, thought we would be good Jews and order Chinese food on Christmas Eve. So, I reasoned that we have a homemade meal on Christmas Eve, after I go to church, and eat Chinese the following night. I drove to pick up the food — Lo Mein, Sesame Chicken, some sort of flounder, and spring rolls — after we went to see the new film “Licorice Pizza.” Meet them halfway.
It’s important to be transparent that you wish to alter how Christmas transpires in your family. You wish to celebrate it. But also ease into changing family traditions that have been practiced for a long time. It’ll take time to figure out the balance.
In other words, compromise, so long as you do not compromise your morals.
Focus On The Greater Good
People you know are probably having an extravagant Christmas complete with all the trimmings, decor, and matching pajamas (definitely not my thing) from every holiday movie you have ever seen. That is okay.
You were not raised Christian, your family still is not Christian, and that is thus something unattainable. It is what it is.
Christmas is about worshipping God and celebrating the birth of his Son. It’s also about spending time with loved ones. Obsessing over material things that have come to shape Christmas in America© is not the important thing. Ease into the holiday and make the best of it.
“Be a courageous worshipper,” as Pastor Cam at Plymouth Meeting Church said at our Christmas Eve service — as we held candles in the dark after humming ‘Silent Night.’ “Your Christmas might be hectic, surrounded by family drinking and eating, but find time to reflect in silence and pray to Jesus.”
Reflect and pray. I’ll hopefully have more tips next year as I keep learning, but until then, I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.