The holidays are coming, and for newlyweds or committed couples, whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or both, it can be an overwhelming and exciting time for you and your new partner and family. The biggest question will be after you have eaten the last Thanksgiving leftovers and all of the harvest decorations are put away: What now?
My husband Jonathan and I got married in April 2016, so when December came around, I was especially anxious. Even though we had celebrated many holidays together before, our first married holiday season together felt different for some reason. I wanted to make sure I was respectful to both religions and families, especially since the holidays overlapped almost exactly that year.
Approaching the holidays can be hard; maybe you or your partner grew up having a tree and the other partner did not. Tackling issues like this and how your extended families will feel about the way you celebrate the holidays may be a challenge at first, but integrating time-tested traditions from different faiths and/or sides of the family can lead to a more inclusive and beautiful holiday season that ever before.
The first night of Hanukah the first year we were married happened to fall on Christmas Eve. This creates extra stress in an interfaith household because the question that comes up is which holiday do we celebrate? The answer was both! Quick sidebar so you can fully understand my story: My husband was raised Jewish but his mother converted to Judaism from Catholicism to marry his father. That being said, he grew up very Jew-y in their home but they still went to his maternal family’s childhood home every year to celebrate Christmas. I myself am Catholic and since my husband is Jewish, we wanted to incorporate both holidays in our home.
When it came to putting up a tree, at first my husband was hesitant because he did not grow up with one. But for me, as it was our first holiday season together, I felt the urge to make our apartment more like a home and that meant a tree. To make my husband feel like he was really a part of the experience, I got him his first ornament: Odell Beckham from the New York Giants! The excitement in his eyes when he hung his first ornament was something I will never forget. But I balanced out the decorations with a fair share of oversized dreidels and hanukkiyot (Hanukkah menorahs) and snow globes.
The centerpieces of our Hanukkah decorations are our hanukkiyot—we inherited one from my husband’s grandmother and we have one that my in-laws gave us. It took me a good couple of years to learn the Hanukkah prayers, but now I feel like a pro and it is my favorite part of Hanukkah to light the candles and say the prayers with my husband, and sit there in quiet looking at the lights flicker until they go out on their own. I love to reflect on the light and what it means in our life and relationship.
When Hanukkah and Christmas Eve fell on the same night last year, we had to get creative about how we celebrated both holidays. Since my husband’s family has multiple faith backgrounds, it made it a little easier to figure out. We had my in-laws over and brought in the first night of Hanukkah by making latkes, lighting our hanukkiyot and opening up some gifts. We then left to go to my mother-in-law’s childhood home to celebrate Christmas Eve. They celebrate the holiday with the traditional Italian seven-fishes feast, opening presents and going to midnight mass.
This year Hanukkah and Christmas thankfully or not (depending on how you look at it) do not fall on or around the same dates. So we can pace ourselves a little bit and not have marathon nights of holiday celebrations. At the end of the day, what is most important is to celebrate the holidays in a way that make the both of you happy. But whatever you do, cherish every second with your loved ones and eat lots of latkes! Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas/Felíz Navidad!