Dear Dawn: I moved in with my Jewish boyfriend in July. At that time, I agreed not to have Christmas in our apartment. Now I’m having second thoughts. I do Passover and Hanukkah with him. Christmas is just one day a year and I have so many beloved traditions. For me, getting and decorating the tree, shopping for gifts, hanging stockings and baking cookies for Santa are all traditions I can’t bear to give up. How can I get him to see that it’s just one day out of 365 and that it is not too much to expect him to accept it in our home? — Santa’s Elf
Dear Elf: I am glad you spelled out your perspective so clearly. Yours is a very common misconception and deserves attention.
Most Christmas celebrants would agree with you: It appears on the calendar on Dec. 25, one day. However, in practice, Christmas is significantly larger and longer. This year, I received my first Christmas ad via email in July! Yes, some folks begin their preparations six months in advance.
From the summer onward, the presence of Christmas expands. Our capitalist economy is dependent on Christmas sales, and U.S. advertising reflects that. Ordinary things become “Christmassy” at this time of year to generate sales. A train becomes a Christmas train, as does a dog, a hat, sweater, pie, blankets; you name it, there’s a holiday version.
Your own practices do not take place in a 24-hour period. At the latest, I would say you need to begin in late November with shopping, decorating, planning, etc.
In the U.S., the “holiday season” is long and everywhere. Public streets are decorated, shops are festooned, music in stores is Christmas music. It is inescapable. Because you grew up with this surrounding you, you don’t notice its overpowering presence. But for people of other faiths — Jews, Muslims, Hindus — it is quite obvious.
You are not asking for a 24-hour period. You are asking to celebrate Christmas.
The place to start is with honesty. Before you open the topic with your boyfriend, think about what you are asking for and be ready to be frank with him (and yourself). Prepare to discuss the fact that this is a core part of your experience as an American. You love all the festivities that the multi-month season brings. Write a list of your most beloved practices and ask yourself which are the most important.
Let’s say you listed: Getting and decorating a tree, baking for Santa, receiving presents and Christmas dinner with family. What are the core elements of each?
We’ll begin with the easy one: a big holiday dinner. You could have that dinner at someone else’s home (maybe your parents). Or you could have that meal on Thanksgiving. Or you could simply have a big meal with family and friends at your house. Eating turkey, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce may not be a problem for your boyfriend at all.
How about presents? The gift exchange frenzy often depresses people who don’t like to shop or don’t have the money. Consider taking the materialism out of it by making gifts: baked goods, a pillow or other craft. Consider whether you could do the gift exchange for Hanukkah. Or ask your boyfriend if shopping and gift giving is fine as long as it doesn’t involve a big pile of green-and-red wrapped gifts in the living room.
Baking for Santa (and others). Winter is a great time for having the oven on. What exactly do you want to bake? Santa-shaped cookies? Try using a different shape: a sheep, a bird. If you’re leaving cookies out for Santa, you’re really just play-acting with yourself. Would it be more meaningful and satisfying to bake for real people, and to see their happiness and appreciation when you give them the sweet treats?
The tree! This is a much harder topic. Often, having a tree is the central point of disagreement. Ask your boyfriend to consider doing an experiment. This year, you go first and experiment with having no tree. Next year, it’s his turn, and there will be a tree. I want each of you to see how you feel about this. You will not make a decision, but you will gather data.
Finally, decide whether this is a deal breaker for you. I don’t want you to stay in the relationship being resentful. Either one or both of you must shift. In two years, it should be clear whether that can happen. Contact me again if you want to do this together.