It might feel as though there are an unlimited number of December holiday decisions you’re up against. Not every family is celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas at this time of year (you may only be celebrating Hanukkah, or you may be celebrating Kwanzaa or another holiday), but Christmas tends to be the holiday that creates the most friction for interfaith couples. For that reason, we’re going to spend a little more time discussing the issues that arise around these two holidays.
Start by making a list of your top five concerns or questions, and ask your partner (or kids or parents) to do the same. You also may find these conversation starters helpful in guiding your discussion. As you compare your lists, we hope you get some clarity on what to address first and what each other’s priorities are.
Hanukkah? Christmas? Both? Neither? Chrismukkah? At home? Away? With which grandparents? And HOW to decide???
Many interfaith families who are raising Jewish kids decide to celebrate Jewish holidays in their own home and to visit Christian relatives to celebrate Christmas. This is an arrangement that works for a lot of families who may feel comfortable sharing in traditions to help their extended families celebrate, but who wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing these traditions into their own homes.
Some families may choose to designate physical places in their home for holiday celebrations—one place for Christmas and another for Hanukkah. Some people really enjoy when Hanukkah overlaps with Christmas so that the celebrations can happen together, and some find it easier when the holidays happen separately, with Hanukkah ending before Christmas arrives.
There are also ways to combine traditions, such as serving latkes at Christmas dinner or having a Jewish-star themed stocking. While some families find that a hybrid approach reflects the make-up and identity of their unique situation, others may feel uncomfortable combining two faiths.
The question of gifts is also something you’ll want to address, both at home and with any extended family you see over the holidays. Rather than staying quiet and seeing what happens, be proactive and communicate. Are you expected to give and receive presents for both holidays? If you have kids, do they know what to expect in terms of gifts and how and when they’ll be receiving them? If you’ve chosen to avoid Santa with your kids, be up front with grandparents in advance to avoid Christmas morning conflicts.
Tree, or no tree? Little tree, or big? Only at Grandma and Grandpa’s, or at home, too? More than perhaps any other symbol, Christmas trees can trigger a variety of emotional responses for people of all backgrounds. None of your feelings around Christmas trees are wrong. What matters in getting along with your partner and in creating a happy holiday experience is how you’re able to face and discuss your feelings, and how you’re able to listen to and compromise with each other.
As tough as it may be, the decision about a tree should come from the adults who live in your home. Try not to let the potential pressure from your parents or your children sway your decisions.
While you’re discussing whether or not to have a tree, calmly share personal stories and memories; listen carefully to those of your partner. Use this guide to talking about the subject with your partner. You may have stories about special family ornaments or about how you always went to the same farm to pick out your tree. You may share that seeing Christmas trees made you feel left out or that you felt a strengthened Jewish identity by not having a tree. Listen to each other, with understanding and respect, about what’s magical and what’s complicated. Together, you’ll figure out how to approach the holiday season together in a way that is as comfortable as possible for both of you.
While for so many people celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas is about recreating family traditions and childhood memories, you also have an amazing opportunity as a family to create new traditions that represent who you are, your backgrounds and beliefs, and the values that you want to pass on to future generations.
Maybe it’s a new fried food with an Irish twist that becomes your family Hanukkah food tradition—or maybe it’s trying a new Hanukkah treat from a different culture each year. You can experiment together with flavors and toppings and create a new flavor profile that represents the holiday season for you. You can do the same thing with other senses, too: Is there a smell you want to associate with your family’s special holiday celebrations? A music playlist that combines Hanukkah and Christmas favorites, which you curate together?
You can make holiday decorations that represent who you are and your family’s unique heritage. Homemade ornaments or wall hangings with the date on them can help create a historical record of your evolving traditions. Take lots of pictures, too, so you can have reminders for years to come. Most important, remember that whatever you do this year doesn’t need to be the same thing you do forever. It’s OK to experiment and try things out. Revisit the ones that work and ditch the others. Just make sure that each year’s celebrations reflect where you are as a family!