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The Guide: Navigating Through December Holiday Challenges

Even after so much effort to create your ideal holiday full of understanding and combined traditions, there’s no such thing as perfect. Especially if you’re celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas, add in the element of extended family, and the December holiday challenges are bound to arise. What do you do if things don’t go according to plan?

Take a deep breath, look at your loved ones and find a new starting point.

Shalom Bayit (A Peaceful Home)

Sometimes, we do things that go against our first preferences for the sake of shalom bayit, a Hebrew phrase that means “a peaceful home.” Especially during the holidays, we may avoid topics that we know lead to disagreements, or we may make compromises just to be together with the people we love.

You may not feel like, religiously or culturally, you can fully stand behind all of your holiday decisions. Keep in mind that some of these difficult choices have been made to help family relations. Show some self-compassion and cut yourself some slack, because it’s also a Jewish value to be kind to yourself.

If you’re on the receiving end of criticism from family, try to remember that they’re likely stressed, too. If an argument starts to brew during a family gathering, be prepared with a few lines to help you walk away. Try, “This is hard for both of us. Let’s discuss later,” or, “I know we all feel strongly about this, but I don’t think we’re going to resolve it today,” or even, “I hope we can put this behind us for now and try to enjoy the holiday. Let’s revisit this when tensions aren’t so high.”

If you need to stand your ground, try, “I totally understand how this is difficult for you, but this is the choice that my partner and I have made and I hope you can respect that.”

Pandemic Problems

Everything about last year was different in some way, and the holidays were no exception. This year is feeling distinctly brighter, but travel and being with loved ones is still not possible for some of us, especially when we’re forced inside at this time of year. During what can already be a stressful time of year, navigating the December holiday challenges of the pandemic on top of everything else might feel impossible. There’s no roadmap or guide for how to do Hanukkah and Christmas during times like these, so in some ways, every family, regardless of their religion, is figuring things out as best they can.

If you can’t travel this year, that might mean bringing Christmas (a tree, dinner, Santa Claus, etc.) into your Jewish home for the first (or second) time. We have conversation starters that address this issue. If you can’t be with family, that might mean figuring out your own comfort and ability to lead certain prayers or rituals or to carry out certain traditions on your own (find candle lighting instructions here). You might want to try to make family recipes by yourself or recreate a family gathering over video chat.

You might take this as an opportunity to hibernate a little, and find comfort in simple, flickering lights. Nothing you decide this year needs to have implications for future holidays and, like everything else about the time we’re living in, it’s OK if your goal is simply to do the best you can in the moment.

Getting Support

Making decisions as an interfaith family about the holiday season can feel isolating and like no one understands what you’re going through. But you are not alone! Many families have navigated these challenging decisions before you, and many of those people have even shared their experiences on our website.

Talking to a trusted family member or friend who can listen to you without judgment may also help get you through December with your emotions intact. You can also join us for holiday events with other interfaith couples, or seek one-on-one counseling with one of our rabbis.

Everyone at 18Doors is familiar with the issues facing interfaith families this time of year, and we can help you talk through some of challenges and get ready for what’s to come.

More than anything else, we hope this guide and the other resources on our website help you navigate through these December holiday challenges with confidence and joy as you and your family design a season of celebrations that’s right for you. Happy holidays!

Head back to the Guide to Hanukkah table of contents


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.

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Author: 18Doors