Mayu Alten is a second-year staff member and Copy/Content Editor. She is currently a junior and covers the water polo beat.
December 21, 2018
Regardless of religion, the winter holidays bring the world together to celebrate the end of the year in their own ways. But for mixed people like us, it’s a time to honor two cultures’ traditions: Hanukkah and Christmas.
I love the holidays as much as the next person. To me, its means warm-smelling candles, upbeat music, gorgeous decorations and lighting our menorah and decorated Christmas tree.
If you were wondering, my mom is Christian and my dad is Jewish. I’m lucky to have grown up in a supportive, Christian-Jewish fusion home; I’ve gained a better understanding of each religion, and of course I’m very fortunate to be able to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. However, deeper than Michael Bublé Christmas music and oily potato latkes is that the holidays is a time of reflection for me about my views towards Christianity and Judaism.
My relationship with religion has always been a little iffy. I feel too Jewish to fully commit myself to everything being preached in Church, but my dad also almost never takes us to Temple. I’ve only been to two bat mitzvahs, both my cousins. I have never celebrated Easter and I can count the number of times we have had Passover on one hand. Honestly, I’m neither Jewish or Christian, and it feels isolating when my peers are certain about their religious lives.
It’s been made clear to me how alienated I am from Christianity and Judaism. While people describe the times they’ve had a spiritual moment with Jesus, I avert my eyes and wonder if I’ll ever have a spiritual connection. I’ve also had someone tell me that I’m “not even that Jewish.” In all honesty, I mean, she’s not wrong. That being said, those words have scarred me as if the Jewish part of me isn’t real.
Despite how religion is treated very open-mindedly at home, when I attend Church with my mom I can’t help but notice the empty spot where my dad might have been. It also deeply pains me hearing about the heinous way Jews have been mistreated, I feel deeply loyal to my Jewish culture, but at the same time guilty that part of me is also not Jewish. Is this pretending?
Growing up I felt like my life was a set path that ultimately led to a day when I would commit myself to a religion and it terrified me. I would let down my mom if I chose Judaism, and my dad if I chose Christianity. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My future religious life still feels very uncertain. It’s hard to commit myself to a specific religion when I am still learning more about the teachings of Christianity and Judaism. One thing is for sure though; over the years I’ve learned how powerful faith is and the importance of trusting someone or something “up there” when you feel out of control of everything else.
But for now I am happy to practice parts of Christianity and Judaism through our tradition of celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah. I love reciting Hebrew prayers with my mom and helping my dad decorate our Christmas tree. At the end of the day, these traditions brings my family closer together, and for that, I am thankful.
I’ve never felt very connected to my Jewish or Buddhist sides, but every year when the winter holidays come around, I feel closer to my roots than ever. Hanukkah is the one time of the year that I am guaranteed contact with Judaism. Christmas, though not a Buddhist tradition, is one that has been passed down from my Japanese ancestors—and they’ve both given me a lot.
My mother is Buddhist and my father is Jewish, and neither of them are devout despite growing up in households where religion took precedence over most things. They have fostered an environment for my siblings and I to be free in choosing what we believe in. Still, there are certain traditions that both have passed down.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few measly prayers for both Buddhism and Judaism, have a basic grasp of their ideals and recognize several important symbols in both religions. However, it’s only during the holidays that I truly feel connected to my cultures. Over Thanksgiving break, I always visit my dad’s side of the family. Their affectionate and easygoing natures have given me a sense of what I believe to be Jewish culture. Over the summer, I visit my Japanese side, who regularly attend temple and strongly believe in the power of prayer. Often, I find myself comparing the two and seeing which side I fit into the best. I always come out unsatisfied.
I used to want to naturally assimilate into one of the two cultures, but just looking at me would show you that I could never fit either of their exact expectations. But I realized that confining yourself within self-percepted standards will never help you find your unique set of beliefs. Every different experience you face shapes what you believe and why. I’ve found that my particular values are a combination of both my parents’—a new category that I didn’t even know existed. And it is thanks to my parents’ efforts that I understand the importance of certain cultural beliefs and rituals that have contributed to who I am today. I’m thankful for what both sides have shown me. In the end, Hanukkah and Christmas have given me more than just a few days of gifts.