Chinese Food and Movies? Not Quite.

This Christmas, the New York Times featured an article about a group of people who are not celebrating Christmas this year—or at least not celebrating it as they had in the past. The article, “Why Is This Christmas Different From All Others?”, describes the experiences of a several Jews-by-choice who no longer spend December 25 as they had before they decided to convert.

The article explains:

For thousands of people who convert to Judaism, Christmas is a difficult day of balancing what was once intimately theirs but now represents, in some ways, the essence of what they are giving up. The holiday brings up questions that often have less to do with theology than with culture and custom. Siblings wonder: Can we still give you gifts? Parents ask: Can I still fill your stocking? If the answers are no, does that signal something akin to betrayal?

As participants in JOI’s two programs for Jews-by-choice — Empowering Ruth for women and Shofar for men — can attest, converting to Judaism does not eliminate the importance of family and cultural traditions that they held dear prior to their conversions. It’s impossible to erase your past. This means some Jews-by-choice might see Christmas as a reminder of what they will no longer celebrate. But it’s also a reminder of their new identity. Just as families may want to include Jews-by-choice in traditional Christmas celebrations, Jews-by-choice may want to include some of their relatives in Jewish holiday celebrations. It’s a great opportunity to share with your family some of the meaning and value you find in Judaism and why it’s so important to you.

Finding the right balance will be different for everyone. What’s most important, though, is to not let the differences get in the way of family bonds. In navigating these challenges, Charlotte Jett, who was interviewed for the article, acknowledged that she didn’t want her mother to feel abandoned during Christmas. She said “I am trying to make sure I respect her. Honoring your parents is a central part of Judaism too.”

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