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The Guide: Hanukkah, Christmas and Your Interfaith Family

Interfaith families are diverse and varied in terms of family structures, faith backgrounds, celebrations, and traditions. There is no one type of family, no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating the issues that may come up around Hanukkah and Christmas. Whether your family is interfaith through marriage, conversion, adoption, divorce or remarriage, 18Doors aims to help all families figure out what works best.

Interfaith Couples During Hanukkah and Christmas

No matter what holidays you celebrate, navigating this time of year can be emotionally exhausting. If you’re in a relationship with someone of a different religious background, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed when working through so many things together. The winter holidays are a great opportunity to learn new things about your partner (and maybe even yourself) and to work on communication and negotiation skills. It’s important as you approach this season to remember that you love and respect each other, and that doesn’t change just because you have differences or disagreements.

If this is your first December living together (or celebrating together), you may not even know where to start the conversation. Show up for each other with curiosity and an open mind, and be ready to ask questions about your partner’s traditions and expectations while also sharing your own. As you start to discuss what Hanukkah and Christmas might look like in your own home, pay attention to topics that start to raise your or your partner’s stress levels. Reflect on what you can compromise to honor your partner’s wishes, and decide on your non-negotiables. We have an excellent list of conversation starters for couples as well as parents.

If you grew up celebrating Christmas and your partner didn’t, it’s important to understand that many Jewish people, especially as children, experience a profound sense of feeling left out during this time of year. For many Jews, part of their Jewish identity is the fact that they do not celebrate Christmas. If you grew up celebrating Hanukkah and not Christmas, remember that your partner may not know what that feels like and may not understand why anyone wouldn’t want to celebrate Christmas. They may need to hear about your experiences to understand the baggage that can come with being Jewish at Christmastime.

While you’re starting to explore these topics, remember to share all types of memories, both happy and painful. It’s always better to be real, and share your true feelings, as you move forward in your relationship. Why not dust off (or purchase) special holiday objects such as menorahs or ornaments or share holiday photos to let each other into your family histories? What objects do you want to represent your family’s holiday memories?

Kids Dealing With Hanukkah and Christmas

Virtually everyone who is or once was a Jewish child has at least one memory of feeling left out at Christmastime. Many also have stories about being singled out to teach lessons about Hanukkah to friends and classmates of different backgrounds. Jewish parents may be concerned about raising their kids in a way that may expose them to these often painful experiences. Christian parents may wonder why they should expose their children to experiences that they themselves can’t relate to.

If you’re raising Jewish children, you might worry about the competitive aspect of this dual holiday time. (Who wants to compete with Christmas? Nobody.) You may worry about how to help them avoid confusion about their Jewishness if you have a tree at home or if they get both Hanukkah and Christmas presents. You may struggle to teach them to let their Christian cousins enjoy the idea of Santa Claus even while understanding that Santa isn’t real (and doesn’t come to your home). If you want a supportive group to unpack these issues with, check out our upcoming events to join one of our holiday conversations.

Above all else, remember that December isn’t the only—or the best—time to form your children’s Jewish identity. If Hanukkah is the only Jewish experience they have all year, they might be disappointed when they compare it to the elaborate Christmas celebrations around them.

Yet, if Hanukkah is only one part of their Jewish experience, which might also include lighting Shabbat candles, having a Passover seder and wearing costumes for Purim, then Hanukkah doesn’t have to tick every box for what makes Judaism meaningful and fun.

If your children are in a Jewish educational setting, it can help to talk to the teachers before December so that they aren’t caught off guard if your child announces they celebrate Christmas, too. While it would be ideal if every religious school prepared for these issues to arise, many are not, and it can help to discuss it proactively.

If your children are in a Christian or secular educational setting, it’s also important to talk to the teachers in advance. That will ensure they are aware your child has a different relationship to Christmas than their classmates.

Many schools are open to the idea of kids or parents teaching the class about Hanukkah, and you need to decide for yourself if this is something you want to do. More important, find out if it’s something your child wants to happen at school.

How About Grandparents?

Just like in many other aspects of parenting, parents of adult children may have strong opinions about what is the right thing for their children. You may also be unsure of how to navigate this aspect of your relationship with your grandchildren, children and in-laws.

Jewish grandparents may feel shocked and disappointed by their grandchildren celebrating Christmas. Christian grandparents may not understand what Hanukkah is about or why their child’s family has hesitation about coming to church with them or having Christmas dinner at their home. Whichever side you’re on, you may find yourself compensating for their confusion by buying extra gifts or finding another way to make “your” holiday seem especially appealing.

Please know that decisions made by your children are not judgments on you and how you raised your own family. These are decisions for your children to make, and you should be respectful of those decisions, even if they can be hard to accept. Inviting your grandchildren to your house for the holidays can be a special experience for everyone involved. It offers you a chance to share personal Hanukkah traditions with your grandchildren.

However, you also need to be prepared that it might not be in their family’s plans and you shouldn’t do so without the parents’ permission. Try not to take your child and their partner’s decisions personally, and remember that maintaining loving relationships among family members is more important than any holiday.

Read on in the next section of this guide, December Holiday Decision-Making Means Compromise

18Doors

Author: 18Doors

18Doors is here to support interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship provides offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have questions, please contact info@18doors.org.


18Doors

18Doors is here to support interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship provides offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have questions, please contact info@18doors.org.