Hanukkah ended yesterday, leaving a 15-day gap in my holiday festivities until Christmas rolls around. Getting loads of extra presents is one of the benefits of being part of an extended family of mixed-worship values. Another is coming from one filled with people whose approach to varying religious interests is on par with their ever-present Canucks-Maple Leafs debate.
Dialogue during Christmas dinner often goes something like this.
"My baby Jesus just clotheslined your baby Jesus." Followed by, "When my Jesus comes back he's going to dominate your Jesus." Then: "God's a farce. Pass the potatoes, Zub Zub," and "The only god I see around here is me," then "So you admit to being a farce?" and the like.
None of the banter is an entirely accurate representation of belief, but being blurry around the edges feeds an unspoken understanding that the less specific the dig, the more each dogma is respected. It's an odd logic but it all flies at my house - there's no other way around it.
I've always been big on holidays. I'm fully grown now and still addicted to the darkest season and all its hectic fuzz. Though there was a grey period following the whole Santa-is-actually-mom-and-dad-who-drank-too-much-last-night-and-that's-why-my-bike-pedals-are-on-backwards thingy, but things are looking up.
The winter holidays get more interesting every year as my older siblings marry, procreate and decide how they want to raise their children. Now in addition to evergreen boughs and gingerbread houses there are menorahs to light and rugalah to bake. Instead of keeping faiths separate, we mix the parts that can be shared - the cultural aspects that everyone can connect with. It's a good time for modern families, or at least for mine. Even if one person's church has been replaced by the golf course or someone put private parts on the Santa Clause shortbread before it went in the oven.
Challah and Portuguese seafood dishes are now a regular part of our formerly white-bread turkey dinners. My parents both overload my Jewish boyfriend with presents because he hasn't had many Christmases before and they want him to have a really good time (yes, capitalism is alive and well at my house). He always helps them set up the tree, joking that divine intervention will set it on fire. Anne Murray's Christmas album is cranked on high until it's drowned out by Bruce Springsteen, who is subsequently topped by my mother on the ivories singing off-tune carols from her churchy childhood. That last affair typically sends everyone into the basement to watch Junior hockey and drink afternoon beers.
Every year one of my brothers waxes vitriolic about the futility of religion in general, but when he uses the same tone to rant about the Canucks' inability to secure a Stanley Cup it's clear that he tackles everything in life with that approach.
In response, my Portuguese-Catholic brother-in-law from Toronto always stashes a giant nutcracker dressed in a Maple Leaf uniform in plain view among the Christmas ornaments on the mantle until someone from the West Coast notices and it is tossed unceremoniously out the window onto the grass (go Canucks!). Just like in Tchaikovsky's famous ballet, that nutcracker always finds its way under a certain someone's pillow before bedtime. And back out the window it flies.
So every year in an overheated living room on Christmas Day on the southern tip of Vancouver Island a Catholic, a Jew, two lapsed Anglicans, a very general Christian, an agnostic and three outspoken atheists celebrate the holiday. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, and to religious fundamentalists it might be just that but it makes up the unit I call family and the blending of the faiths makes my parents' house a hilarious place to be.
Whoever my nieces and nephews decide to be when they grow up, at the very least their beliefs (or lack thereof) will be shaped by tolerance - if not for the Maple Leafs then for religion.