For Those Wondering

My family’s religious experiences

My mom was raised by religious Catholics in New England who took her and her siblings to church. She was baptized and took communion. My mom never went to church again as an adult outside of weddings and funerals. She did not believe in it and never brought Christianity back into her life in a religious way. She does not identify as religiously Christian. Her parents are now dead and none of her siblings were or are religious or had children.

My religious upbringing

I was raised Unitarian Universalist (UU), a religion that draws on Judeo-Christian traditions and has no holy book of its own. My parents wanted to raise me “something” and this religion allows you to believe whatever you want about God (including not at all), bring any traditions you were raised with into it, and exposes children to all world religions’ lessons in the religious education. Many other Jewish-Christian intermarriage families come to this religion. We went to the UU Festival of Lights I mentioned in the essay (not a service, just activities for children) and the meeting house would also have Seders and other Jewish and Christian services but we never went to those. We did attend UU services with hymns and a sermon on many Sundays.

My religious adulthood

My wife and I met while working at a UU organization, though neither of us identified as UU. We tried going to some UU services but they never resonated enough for us to become a part of the religion. I have every respect for it and it would likely be our closest match if we did have a religion.

Holidays

So, if I don’t identify as Christian, why do I celebrate Christmas and Easter? I celebrate them secularly without mass, Jesus, or anything else religious just like millions of others do. By “celebrate,” I mean my extended family on my wife’s side and my side invite us for a meal and we go like we do for Thanksgiving. It’s the times our whole family gets together. If my family gathered for any Jewish holidays, we’d celebrate those secularly as well. Since the holidays for us are in large part about being together with family, we join in the family celebrations that are present.

Judaism

I don’t hate or dislike Hanukkah, Judaism, or Jews. I don’t think Jews should stop celebrating Jewish holidays. (Again, this was not an opinion piece trying to sway anyone to live as I live, and again, I understand how the placement, framing, and timing of this personal story caused harm.)

Assimilation and Appropriation

My parents left their religions of origin and did not raise us in either one. They passed on the remnants only in holidays celebrated as secularly as possible. Just like we didn’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah or other Jewish holidays, we also didn’t celebrate Lent or other Christian holidays besides the two I’ve mentioned. This was not a case of a Jewish family marrying a Christian family and both families wanted their religion to be the one given to the grandkids and Christianity won because it is the dominant one in American society. This was a case of geography where we celebrated Christmas and Easter with my mom’s family because they lived in New England and my Jewish parent was not at all religious and no one in his U.S. family celebrated any Jewish holidays. My mom’s mom would go to mass and other religious activities we didn’t partake in, we just had the family gathering. Like for many families, the holidays for us are about being with family.

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Sarah Prager

Sarah Prager

Writer, speaker, activist, and mom based in Massachusetts. Author of LGBTQ+ history books for youth.