Many people responded to my post last week about developing a relationship with Christmas as it pertains to my ability to be culturally responsive in both personal and professional situations. In that post, I wrote a lot about my husband, without whom I would likely never have participated in the holiday to begin with. But what I left out of that post, was any discussion of Dan’s efforts to learn about and relate to my culture. And there is much to say on this front.
Flashback: December 2007
I realize it is a total cliche to get engaged during the holiday season, but I couldn’t help myself. I had just traveled to Mexico with my mother to celebrate her retirement and my PhD. I missed Dan while I was away, although I have to admit my mother and I had a wonderful adventure together. We spent a lot of time talking about our lives and work; she was at the end of a long career as a physician and I was at the beginning of my work in academia. Naturally, we also talked at great length about my relationship with Dan and what our future might bring.
Our trip ended just as Chanukah was beginning and I spent the first few nights of the holiday at my folks’ house before returning home. During that time, Dan sent me the following message:
“Hi Baby, We kicked off in style last nite. We didn’t have the traditional Hebrew candle lighting words so we made up some sh*t about not being assimilated. I quoted some stuff from Star Trek on the topic. Finished with Peace Out. Wished you were here. Ate some (curried sweet) potato latkes that were not too bad, if I may say so. It was fun. Gotta go get the kids up and ready for the day. I hope your trip back was OK. Hearts, -d”
And that was it. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life this man; a man who could make me laugh, a man who could cook curried sweet potato latkes, a man who would light the Chanukah candles even when I wasn’t home and he wasn’t Jewish. The next time we spoke, I told him so and the wedding plans began.
Present-day: December 2012
For the past six years, I’ve attended the “holiday” party at Dan’s company and criticized its Christmas-centricism. There was really nothing ecumenical about it. Each year, just before everyone bowed their heads to thank Jesus Christ for the meal we were about to eat, the executive staff sang Jingle Bells. And each time I would lean over to Dan and ask, “Do you think this will be the year they sing I Have a Little Dreidel?” The first time he shot me a look as if to say, “Don’t be ridiculous. And, please, don’t embarrass me by shouting out a request for it.” But this year was different.
As the the holiday season was getting under way, Dan came home and told me about a discussion in his staff meeting. Some folks had decorated the office and one proudly announced that it was now Christmastime in the department. Dan tried to correct her by suggesting it was The Holiday Season to which she balked, “What do you have against Christmas?” He suggested that while he loved Christmas, it wasn’t right to assume that everyone in the office felt the same way. No effect. So, he reminded her that I am Jewish, and tried to help his co-workers understand my perspective this time of year, the way I have historically felt like an outsider when conversation turns to Santa and the baby in the manger.
I’m not sure his message made an impact on that woman or anyone else in the office that day. But the story made an impact on me. It let me know, again, that he respected where I came from. It showed he had been listening all those years when I told him I was uncomfortable. And, it proved that culturally responsive teaching can impact students of various ages, not just young children in our nation’s schools.