by Arlene Chernow
As we enter December and upcoming holidays, I want to share some thoughts from my 25 years working in congregations. The December Dilemma was the most requested program that I offered to congregations. My takeaway is this: so many of the hurt feelings happen because it is hard to talk with members of an interfaith extended family about expectations.
The topic that came up again and again was wrapping paper. The story that I heard was that the members of the extended family generally accepted the family’s choice to not celebrate Christmas in their home, but then presents to children came wrapped in Christmas paper. This was interpreted as a passive aggressive gesture.
Let’s take a closer look: Many of the experiences took place before the internet made shopping as easy as it is today. If you live in an area of the country where there is a Jewish population, it may be easy to get Hanukkah wrapping paper in your local store, but there are many parts of the country where the Hanukkah and the Christmas wrapping paper are not next to each other. One woman shared that she sent Hanukkah wrapping paper to her mother well in advance of the December holidays with a note asking her parents to use it.
If they are open to the idea, I suggest having a discussion within your family. Together, you can decide whether to wrap gifts in the paper of the holiday that the gift giver celebrates or the paper of the recipients holiday. If it is the latter, prepare in advance by buying your family members the appropriate wrapping paper for them to use on you or your children’s gifts. Either decision gives parents a chance to have a positive, proactive discussion of love and respect for cultural differences.
Another solution we’ve come up with is silver wrapping paper. After many years of leading these discussions, one of my daughters married a man whose family has a tradition of exchanging Christmas gifts among adults in addition to buying gifts for children, which had not been our tradition. I was then faced with the question of how to wrap the gifts. I chose silver wrapping paper. Why? It shows respect for my daughter’s in-laws. It looks pretty under their Christmas tree, and it is still true to who I am.
Am I reading too much into wrapping paper? Maybe, but I think that silver wrapping paper can be a useful model for the critical question: How can I be true to my new identity as a Jew and create a warm extended and loving interfaith family.