My wife and I, respectively, have fairly ethnic sounding last names: One of them very Italian and the other (mine) sounding oh-so Jewish. Every year, around the holidays, there is always at least one person that asks, “what will you be doing for the holidays?” Meaning: Are you dragging a giant tree into your living room and waiting for that benevolent midnight marauder to make his way down your chimney with loads of consumer goods, or are you going to consume oily potato pancakes, light a few candles and dance the Horah?
Now, I rarely have a satisfying answer to this one, since I have never been all that excited by the holiday hullabaloo and pretty much a secular humanist most of my life, and my wife, while more of a traditionalist than myself, loves the iconography of Christmas, but negates the religious overtones and the rabid consumerism. However, once you bring a child into the mix, decisions/compromises (what have you) must be made.
The question of what and how to celebrate is a complicated issue, as some families contain mixed faiths, lapsed faiths, or no discernible faith at all. Some families/individuals elect to embrace more than one tradition, in an effort to give their children alternating or complementary perspectives on the seasonal festivities. However, with the wealth of a pluralistic holiday experience often comes muddling and confusion and, for many purist and critics, the idea that introducing more than one holiday tradition into the mix insures that no tradition of any sort will gain any traction. And of course, many families, out of personal aversion, lack of religious belief, or just holiday fatigue, choose to opt out of the whole package and simply spend time together doing whatever it is that makes them feel familial.
I have no real sagely advice on the matter, as (truth be told) I have not settled upon a comfortable balance of tradition vs. pragmatism. But at a time when we are all sharing in a great deal of dismay and uncertainty, it is safe to say that defusing the tensions and reducing our differences (within the family and the larger community) will help us to accomplish something more significant than any holiday tradition could provide: Our ability to connect and live in relative peace. Life tends to be far less complicated when we focus on our commonality and not our disparities.
With that said, I am curious what everyone out there is doing for the holidays? Feel free to chime in, unload, impart wisdom, and share your ideas and experiences.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.