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When is December Not A Dilemma?

As everyone who is reading this already knows, December is probably the most stressful/crazy/anxiety-ridden time of the year.  Or at least that’s what everyone wants you to feel. Especially if you are intermarried or if you grew up in an interfaith family. The questions: What are you doing for the holidays? Do you have a tree? Do your kids believe in Santa?  Do your kids get presents for both holidays?

Maybe it’s because I have been in an interfaith marriage for 10 years and have had kids for the last 7, but thankfully I do not have a dilemma in December. This is due to my amazing husband, in-laws and extended family and because we really did and continue to do the work to secure this non-dilemma situation during this crazy time of the year. We celebrate Hanukkah in our house and Christmas at my in-laws and extended family. We each have our own menorah and bring it with us when the holidays overlap.  We have a great time and so do our kids. While my in-laws celebrate Christmas as a truly religious one, we celebrate it as a truly fun day or two to spend with family, exchange gifts and eat cinnamon buns.

The first year we were married, and I didn’t observe my family’s Jewish Christmas tradition of going to the movies and going out for Chinese food—unique, I know—I was completely overwhelmed by the gifts. My in-laws are completely non-materialistic people so that made me even more taken aback. Hanukkah in my family was one nice gift and a bunch of little things for the rest of the seven nights.

Thankfully after we had kids, the bulk of the presents went to them – rightfully so – but I still haven’t been able to make my own peace with all of the presents. Even today, I went to Macy’s in our local mall for a Hanukkah Family Fest and was simply in shock at how many people were at the mall and all of the shopping bags they were walking out with. Not that I am anti-gifts—my kids would never forgive me for that. In fact, I am done with my shopping and I bought almost all of the gifts at non-commercial places like independent toy stores and book stores—crowds make me a little crazy plus I am a bad decision-maker so smaller stores with fewer options work out better for me.

The first couple of years with our kids at Christmas, I was slightly adamant about their gifts being wrapped in non-Christmas paper: something wintery was fine—snowflakes or snowmen—and I definitely didn’t want any gifts from Santa – only from Grammy & Poppy.  I am beyond grateful that my in-laws respected my wishes—and humored me.  I also feel that my husband and I have done our job as parents for the other 364 days out of the year so one day is not going to make a lasting impact in their identity.

Now our 7-year-old is the one asking questions: Why aren’t stores decorated for Hanukkah? Why do only people who celebrate Christmas put up lights in their yard? Why do more people celebrate Christmas than Hanukkah? Is Santa real? My husband and I try to answer these questions with simple yet truthful answers and in a way to let him know that we know these things can be hard to understand. The Santa one is the hardest because it is such an honest question and one that we don’t want him to ruin for his friends—kind of like the tooth fairy. It’s a tough one—what do you tell your kids?


Elana MacGilpin


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Author: Elana MacGilpin