For nearly 11 years of marriage, and sixteen years total of being together (dating/engaged/married), Andy and I have been in a mixed race, mixed faith marriage. He is a Roman Catholic, I’m an atheist. I was raised in an atheist family, and never saw the need for religious rituals and the like. Going into the relationship I had to accept Andy was going to remain Roman Catholic and that he was not going to change. For him accepting that I was going to remain an atheist was harder, but I think last year was when he realized the extent of the damage he was doing to our relationship by not accepting it. And the result of this was something I would never have anticipated.
I am Caucasian, of Irish, English, German, Dutch, Scottish and Welsh descent. I have traced my genealogy, tracking where my ancestors immigrated from when they entered the US, and though I have had ancestors who came over during the 1500s, the countries above come up in their countries of origin with surprising regularity. And I’ve not even found any First American ancestry in my family tree to make things more interesting (and a genetic test that my dad took confirmed that he at least is overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon with no trace of American Indian, though we do have some Neanderthal and Denisovan, so perhaps my ancestors weren’t as stodgy stick to your own kind as they seem!). My husband, Andy’s, parents immigrated from the Philippines, which is its own mixing ground of ethnicities. Andy has ancestors from Spain, China, Saudi Arabia, and, naturally, the Philippines.
Me and Christmas have a complicated history. I think if I didn’t have young children and family who celebrated it I would not observe it. But I have both, so I do, some years more enthusiastically than others.
Traditionally in my family the day after Thanksgiving was reserved for decorating the house for Christmas. My parents would give my sister and I an ornament every year and decorating the tree was a nice trip down nostalgia lane, something the whole family would do together. We’d see the ornaments from previous years and talk about the memories tied in with them. We’d play Christmas carols, bake cookies, etc. It was nice.
I figured my Catholic husband would enjoy decorating a tree. While we were dating we never bothered, but when we got married we got a tree. And I was the only one decorating it. Turns out Andy really doesn’t care about the tree. His lost his father and oldest brother around the holidays and it soured him on them. He just likes the good eating on Christmas Day but other than that doesn’t want to do much with them. After Buddy came around, I was still the only one decorating the tree while wrangling Buddy, and then eventually wrangling Sissy as well. All by myself. And wondering why I was putting in such effort for a holiday I merely tolerate. Especially as the thing that made decorating the tree enjoyable was sharing memories with someone who could speak. And neither of my kids have that kind of vocabulary yet.
But if I mentioned to people I was thinking of not decorating they would insist I had to. I have young children! It would be horrible if they didn’t have a Christmas tree! So I did. Resentfully.
Last year Buddy loved the tree, but in his excitement was not as careful with it as he should have been, and keeping the tree safe from him, our German Shepherd, and our cat was an exercise in frustration. We also lost some ornaments, some of which I was secretly glad were broken, others which had sentimental value to me.
And then of course after all this effort to decorate and keep the tree safe, there’s the extra effort in taking it down. Which is also a tremendous pain in the ass.
So after taking the tree down last year I decided that this year we aren’t doing a tree. Or decorating. And damn what anyone else thinks!
Considering my kids are so young and do get so excited about the tree, something about not decorating seems downright scandalous. But I’ve been working on creating other traditions instead. For instance I got some green felt and cut it out in the shape of a tree and had them decorate that with little pompoms, which they liked. They liked it so much I’m going to have to run out and get more pompoms as soon as I’m sure that the stores won’t be crowded (yeah, I have issues with agoraphobia). And they both enjoyed dancing to Christmas carols.
They’ll be cookies to decorate, shows to watch, and we take them to plenty of activities where they can meet Santa and see Christmas trees that they won’t be lacking in Christmas activities. But for now dealing with a tree is just more stress than I can handle, especially when the bulk of caring for it falls disproportionately on me.
And perhaps, once the kids get older and more mature, we can get the tree out again.
Sometimes when life throws a curveball, it’s pleasant.
Since Buddy was born Andy has taken him to Mass, while I have a bit of time to myself. As Buddy has gotten older and as Sissy has come along, Andy has become more and more dissatisfied with the arrangement. His church does not have a nursery or Sunday school. Raised in a heavily Protestant area I was surprised to learn these are not common in Catholic Churches. It’s all about Mass and children and infants are expected to sit through it.
All told Andy and I have been together in some form or fashion for twelve or thirteen years. We met in college, started dating about a year after that and things quickly progressed once we were dating. So here we are now, 8 years of marriage, two kids, a cat and a dog. And most days the fact that we’re also a mixed faith couple doesn’t come in to play. We’re too busy living life to notice. But other times it does.
If you’ve met someone who has different religious belief than you do and want to pursue a relationship with them, let me share with you what would have made this journey a helluva lot easier. Honesty. Even if it’s difficult, even if it hurts, even if it may mean ending the relationship. Be honest. Because while there are a lot of good things in our relationship, it could all come crashing down because of the dishonesty that was sown at the beginning of it.