How My Boyfriend and I Are Joining Christmas and Hanukkah Traditions in a Studio Apartment
I wouldn’t say I grew up in a terribly religious Jewish household, but there were some things that my parents were pretty firm about: You must go to Hebrew school twice a week, challah is a treat to be clawed at viciously so you get the best parts before your siblings, and there is no Christmas tree in the house.
Some Jewish families I knew leaned into the cultural aspects of Christmas and hung lights and had a tree, but not my family. As an adult in my own small apartment, I have a smattering of menorahs and other Judaica that shows my identity with pride, but I wouldn’t call it a religious household, and I’ve definitely never had a tree. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors and my dad experienced a fair amount of anti-Semitism growing up, so as I grew up, I always understood the acute privilege of being able to celebrate my holidays and identify as a secular Jew. In this era of increased anti-Semitism, it’s even more important for me to see my heritage reflected on my shelves.
This August, my boyfriend moved in with me, and pretty early on, we discussed how we wanted to combine our religious backgrounds. He grew up Catholic the way I grew up Jewish, in that he went to church on holidays and celebrated many important holidays, but as an adult, doesn’t worship much anymore. But we both love the holiday spirit and expressed excitement about learning about each other’s upbringings and getting to weave some traditions into our own (small) home and create new ones together. You know what that meant? A tree!
I eagerly suggested we pick out a mini Christmas tree to sit on our coffee table, because you better believe there is no floor space for a bigger one in our studio apartment. Meanwhile, he eagerly agreed to let me indoctrinate him on my cutthroat dreidel game.
Picking out the tree was a new experience for me. We went to one of those tree stalls that dot the sidewalks of New York City after Thanksgiving and looked for our tree baby. I loved hearing him explain how to look for a non-crooked tree and how the it would “plump out” once it drank some water. The one we found, which we named Treeodore Roosevelt, immediately felt right — and looked fantastic once adorned with battery-operated lights.
Next to Treeodore sits a navy blue menorah I acquired this year. I’d had my eye on the Trace menorah by Via Maris for some time and it is the ideal addition to our little holiday display. I love the simplicity of it, especially in contrast to my other menorahs: It feels modern, which perfectly fits the modernity of my and my boyfriend’s arrangement. I keep a little dreidel next to it, and they were the perfect backdrop to the meal of latkes, apple sauce, sour cream, and lox we ate to kick off the holiday season. And that’s it: That’s the way we’ve marked the holidays. We don’t have room to host a party or get more elaborate, but that’s just fine by us.
Will I teach him the candle-lighting prayer or explain what the shamash is? Maybe. Will he explain the details of a nativity play to me? Perhaps. But what we’ll definitely continue doing until likely after New Year’s is listening to our specially-curated holiday season playlist (no “Last Christmas” allowed), experiencing each other’s holidays together for the first time as a live-in couple, and cooing over Treeodore as he fills out.