I am not putting one up. Just leave me alone!”
“Honey, it’s a Christmas tree ornament! It’s not going to kill you to put it on the tree!”
How could my husband Tom know what it was like growing up Jewish in Skokie, Illinois? Flashback: Each year at Christmastime all the regular television shows would be preempted by yet another holiday special. I always hoped to sneak a peek, but my parents were adamant that we not watch “that stuff.”
It’s not that all our Jewish neighbors agreed. Inevitably, we’d drive by a neighbor’s house and see a Christmas tree in the window and the conversation would begin: “What kind of Jew would have a Christmas tree?”
I grew up in a traditional Jewish home, where for the most part we kept kosher and I knew nothing of the Body of Messiah. There were Jews and Gentiles, us and them. When I responded to Jesus’ passionate pursuit of me at age 24 I found myself in that strange world, the Church, which consisted mainly of non-Jews. I needed to work hard to adjust to it. But I was so grateful to “come home” at last, that after awhile “they” didn’t seem so foreign and I felt welcomed in to a wonderful, new family.
As a new believer I remember hungrily asking questions about the faith, but I didn’t ask what this meant for me as a Jewish woman. I was so happy to find God and His truth that my friends said that I’d adapt. Well, I adapted so well that six years into my walk with God I married Tom, my best friend—and he wasn’t Jewish. He taught me how to think more broadly and deeply than I ever had. He also was the one who would teach me about Christmas trees!
As hard as I tried, putting up Christmas tree ornaments was just not me!
We didn’t really argue about it, but for several years I just watched as Tom and the kids decorated our house. I also knew it could be tense when my Jewish family came to visit. It was hard enough to tell them I was a follower of Jesus! But this felt so “in their face.” I didn’t want to hurt them unnecessarily.
Tom and I live in Iowa City and lead a wonderful group of godly Gentile Christians, and this has filled my life with joy—and longing. I am a stranger in a familiar land, and it has been difficult to establish my identity as a Jewish believer here.
We were married about six years when Tom came home with a present. He had the sweetest look on his face while I opened it. He’d bought me a beautiful menorah from the Art Institute of Chicago. It spoke volumes to me. From that point on we committed ourselves to work together to develop traditions that captured both of our hearts and histories. We would be sensitive to each other and decide together what made sense for our family.
By now our family has developed many holiday traditions. Some come more naturally to me than others. But we have chosen them together and they all serve to remind us of that day 2,000 years ago when a little Jewish Baby illuminated the world with the light of the gospel.
Adey and Tom Wassink lead the Iowa City Vineyard Fellowship.