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Voices: What it’s like when ‘culture wars’ affect your relationship

‘As an Irish-English-Catholic-Protestant-Jew, I find it’s easier to just stay out of the whole thing. Christmas is for presents, Easter is for chocolate, and lent is just Dry January 2.0,’ writes Ryan Coogan  (Getty Images)
‘As an Irish-English-Catholic-Protestant-Jew, I find it’s easier to just stay out of the whole thing. Christmas is for presents, Easter is for chocolate, and lent is just Dry January 2.0,’ writes Ryan Coogan (Getty Images)

I’m not religious, but religion won’t leave me alone for some reason. I was Christened CofE as a baby, but that was mostly just because it was the done thing at the time, plus it was good excuse for my aunts and uncles to have a party.

There was some contention as to how to go about it – my dad’s side of the family are all Irish Catholic, so they’d have preferred I go in that direction, but they quickly dropped the idea when my mum suggested they’d have to be the ones to take me to church (sorry Jesus, Sundays are for drinking).

When my mum took me to be Christened, she asked the priest whether the fact that her dad was Jewish would affect things (she phrased it more as an “I have a friend” statement, so he wouldn’t cotton on). After a brief line of questioning, a few things came to light: mum is also Jewish (according to the church, at least), therefore her kids would also be Jewish by default, and no amount of Christening would override that. Apparently, religion isn’t just like starting a new save file on a video game – God keeps track of these things.

As an Irish-English-Catholic-Protestant-Jew, I find it’s easier to just stay out of the whole thing. Christmas is for presents, Easter is for chocolate, and lent is just Dry January 2.0.

About 10 years ago, though, I started dating my partner, who – like my dear departed granny – is a Northern Irish Catholic. Did you know that, for some people, Easter is actually a day of very solemn religious observance and not just and excuse to unhinge your jaw and eat and entire chocolate egg in one bite like a snake? I didn’t!

For her family, Easter is like a mini-Christmas, with all the celebration and familial obligation that brings. When she worked in England, which is where we met, she’d always fly home that weekend come rain or shine. It’s whole production: there’s a three-hour Easter vigil that they kick off with a big pyre, they all get together and eat a big meal, relatives gather from around the world. It’s nice.

For reference, Easter usually falls within a couple of days of my birthday, so for me it’s always just been the starting gun on a fortnight of self-centred hedonism. I couldn’t imagine going out of my way to celebrate it. I’m not even sure I’d know how.

This year was a prime example of that sort of clash of cultures. I work weekends, and this weekend is no exception. I hadn’t really thought about it – as far as I’m concerned, this Sunday I’ll work until five, and if my partner is out it just means I’ll have an excuse to play video games and eat an entire egg in one sitting.

Her mum, bless her, really stressed out about it. At the moment we’re within a five-minute drive of her parents’ house, where the festivities usually take place. She’s not happy with the idea that I’ll be within spitting distance, hunched over my laptop, while they’re all down the road recreating the roast beast scene from The Grinch. It’s hard to explain to somebody that one of the most significant dates on their social calendar is just another Sunday to you.

One last thing: that part about my secretly being Jewish? I didn’t hear that story until I was 24 years old. I was caught in the crossfire of a conversation between my partner and my mum, who just casually dropped that bombshell like it was the most normal thing in the world. I remember sitting bolt upright: “Wait, are you saying that I’m Jewish?”

“I mean in a very roundabout way, I suppose. Does it matter?”

“You never told me!”

“Well, you never asked.”

She’s right, I didn’t ask. My partner did, and I guess that sums up the difference between us. I’m lucky to have her around, so I can find out all these weird Da Vinci Code details about my own life.

I’m still not a religious person, and I probably never will be. But it’s nice to have the option to step into that world whenever I want to. And you never know – maybe one day it’ll rub off on me.