Recently, I have been greeted at my front door with a plethora of boxes! Some of the boxes are notable – skinny boxes as tall as Benny or heavy boxes wider than my body. Some of the boxes are unremarkable, no more than padded envelopes, tightly taped shipping bags, or boxes smaller than a mouse. Many of the boxes are the all too familiar medium-sized Amazon boxes that have become common during the pandemic. What is impressive about the boxes is their sheer number and persistent arrival! The boxes are the byproduct of our interfaith family, having a December baby, and a slow-to-relent pandemic.
Navigating interfaith couple gift-giving required mild negotiation, but in the end was relatively straightforward. As a couple, if we were going to exchange a holiday gift with another couple or friend or member of a family, we gave that gift during whatever holiday they celebrated. So, Emily and I exchanged gifts with my best friend, his husband, and our godson around Christmas because that’s when they celebrate. We exchanged Christmas presents with my family and Hanukkah presents with her family, because that’s what they celebrated respectively. Whatever potential confusion could have been produced in the two families exchanging gifts was resolved when our mothers started to send cultural baskets during the month of December. My parents send Cajun staples like Konriko rice and Tabasco; while Emily’s parents send Junior’s cheesecakes or other New York food items! There was a low package volume balance to it all that was obliterated by having Ben.
In our home, I am outnumbered two-to-one as it is related to winter holidays that are celebrated! That is to say that as we are raising Ben Jewish, he and Emily and we by family extension celebrate Hanukkah. For adults, Hannukah does not have the same gift-giving drive that we might associate with Christmas (thought for American Jews there is certainly more Hanukkah gift-giving than you might see in other parts of the Jewish world). However, in America and in Emily’s family, children can and often do receive gifts for each of the eight, yes – EIGHT, nights of Hanukkah. Not only are we receiving multiple boxes of gifts that we have bought for Benny, but we are also receiving multiple Hanukkah gifts from Emily’s family. We attempted to celebrate only the coming of Papa Noel (the Cajun version of Santa!) with my family, but my mother was concerned that such a course of action might seem like they were not respecting our decision to raise Ben Jewish. Yes! You guessed it – my parents are also sending multiple Hanukkah gifts. To add more boxes to my porch, Benny is also a December baby! Last year, since we were separated from our families because of Covid, the volume of gifts seems to rise in proportion to the length of time we had been separated!
Now you might be wondering, why am I regaling you with the sordid tale of so many boxes! It certainly highlights a consumptive impulse that I wish we could curtail in our families and in ourselves. But more than that, the boxes remind me of all the beautiful and connective and complicated things that come from our interfaith family. Our families and friends are engaged in this beautiful dance of determining how to celebrate with us and celebrate us and celebrate the faiths that support and shape us. It’s not always an easy thing to be in an interfaith marriage – it has always required a high degree of transparency, communication, and willingness to find common ground. Emily and I are dedicated to the others’ free and responsible search for truth. It’s not always straightforward to support someone walking a path you cannot see or do not want to travel, but it is the bedrock of our marriage. As we are together committed to cultivating both Ben’s Jewishness and Cajunness, we are shepherding our families along that path with us. Since we know the difficulty of that interfaith work, it creates an awareness of the complexity we are inviting our friends and family and parents into. And I happily wade through a pile of packages to ensure that we can create a more just and expansive world for our child and all children! I hope that when you see packages on your front porch this holiday season, you will view it as an invitation to do something challenging or difficult or expansive.