This is the gingerbread house my seven-year-old decorated. The chocolate Hannukah coins were his own addition to the pre-packaged Christmas candy. It is wholly appropriate to our unusual family. A few years ago, I wrote the following for the kids' school newspaper. It is as true now as the day I wrote it, and in the spirit of the season I want to share it with you.
A Holiday Message
The holidays are an interesting time of year at my house. Our beloved menorah holds pride of place on the mantel, just above the Christmas stockings hanging from the hooks that spell out “PEACE.” We light the Hannukah candles while Bing Crosby sings “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on our stereo. We play dreidel in front of the Christmas tree. One year, on one particularly odd day, we attended a post-Ramadan party celebrating my cousin’s return from the Haj (the pilgrimage to Mecca that every devout Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime) after attending a neighbor’s Christmas party and before lighting the Hannukah candles.
To say my children are confused would be a vast understatement. My 3-year-old is convinced that Moses and Santa Claus are the same person. My 6-year-old thinks that we light the Hannukah candles so that Santa will be able to see when he comes down the chimney. Despite my many, long-winded explanations of the differences between the various religions devoutly practiced by the members of my large and complicated family, both of my children remain blissfully unaware that it is inappropriate to wish their Jewish uncle a Merry Christmas, or to invite their Muslim cousins to light the Hannukah candles.
They also remain unaware that, in most parts of the world, their very existence would be impossible. They are the children of a Polish/Russian Jewish father, and a mother who is equal parts Palestinian Muslim and German Catholic crossed with English Protestant. They are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of ancient and violent enemies. They are a unique product of the American Experiment.
In my weaker—or more exhausted—moments, I sometimes wish I could offer them a simple, traditional belief system. I wish I could just tell them, “This is who we are. This is what we believe.” But in my better moments, I realize that this way of life offers them something much more precious. They are learning, firsthand, that, notwithstanding the acts of governments and fanatics, every culture, every religion, every holiday, is a celebration of life and love and family. They are learning tolerance. And my one wish for them at this time of year—my wish for all of us—is the one spelled out on my mantel: Peace.