Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah
by Christina Katz
Holiday joy can be doubled, rather than halved, when you choose to light the menorah and decorate the Christmas tree to honor the cultural and religious traditions in your extended family. Here’s what our family has learned from holding the middle ground over the years:
Talk to Each Other
The bottom line on family celebrations, holiday or otherwise, is to always do whatever you and your spouse deem best for your family. The only way to come to an understanding about what this means is to discuss it with each other. Be prepared for this to be an ongoing conversation, and probably one that you revisit each year. Decide if you will embrace the deeper meaning of the holidays, including religious services you will attend as a family.
Protect Your Joint Point of View
Never let bossy or opinionated family members horn in on conversations that rightly belong between you and your partner. You only have one spouse, and that’s the person whose opinion you should value most. Your kids come next and the grandparents after them. Don’t treat your parents like children or allow them to treat you like a child. This behavior will only create conflicts between you and your spouse.
Ignore Disapproving Outsiders
Never apologize for being an interfaith family, even if people in your extended family or circle of close friends do not approve of your union. You are not seeking their permission. Creating harmonious and joyful dual holidays in your own home is your parental right and your familial duty, even if it means agreeing to disagree with certain members of your extended family.
Stick to Separate But Equal
Christmas may be more common and commercial than Hanukkah, but don’t let that trump your holiday fun. The nice thing about Hanukkah is that it lasts for eight nights. Light the menorah candles and say the Hanukkah prayer every night, if you possibly can. You may be amazed at how moving and inspiring such simple rituals can be, even on busy school nights. Look for the quieter, more awe-inspiring moments in Christmas as well, such as ending the day admiring the beauty of the decorated tree and window lights.
Keep Both Sets of Traditions
At our house, we celebrate as much of both traditions as we can, without a worry about whether the holiday dates overlap. For me, this means the Christmas tree, the presents, the cookies, the big dinner. For my husband this means lighting two menorahs for eight nights (one for him and one for my daughter), and having our daughter’s friends over for potato latkes and some lively dreidel games.
Don’t Double Your Gift Budget
We make an effort to celebrate the bounty of two holidays without going overboard. If you are an interfaith family, your kids’ friends may consider them “lucky” because they assume that they get double the gifts every holiday season. However, that’s not necessarily the case at our house. Our daughter typically gets a little present on the first day of Hanukkah and a bigger present on the last day of Hanukkah. One set of grandparents sends a couple of little Hanukkah gifts and a check and the other sends a couple of stocking stuffers and a check. The number of gifts she receives is essentially the same as it would be if we only celebrated one holiday.
Share the Love
Another thing we enjoy about dual holidays is that our daughter can share traditions about both holidays with her friends, no matter what religion they follow, exposing them to a culture they may not have had the opportunity to learn about.
When invited to join a new or old tradition on either side of the family, give the ritual a chance. We will try just about anything once. But we reserve the right to say no to pressure or anything that makes us uncomfortable. Maintaining an atmosphere where you can say yes or no to your parents without stern chastisement may not come easily in your extended family system. But start trying it, or you’ll never get there.
Honor the Choices of Others
We don’t try to protect our family members from our choices. They need to be exposed to what we value, if we expect them to understand and accept our choices. However, we also try to respect the choices that each of our family members make without imposing our life choices on them. The Jewish families get Happy Hanukkah cards and the Christian families get Christmas cards. When we cross over, we go with “Happy Holidays.”
Holiday Family Reads
Hanukkah! by Roni Schotter and Marilyn Hafner (LB Kids, $8.99)
Lots Of Latkes, A Hanukkah Story by Sandy Lanton and Vicki Jo Redenbaugh (Kar-Ben Publishing, $14.95)
When Mindy Saved Hanukkah by Eric Kimmel (Scholastic Paperbacks, $3.95)
It’s A Miracle! A Hanukkah Storybook by Stephanie Spinner and Jill McElmurry (Aladdin, $8.99)
The Christmas Story by Jane Werner Watson and Eloise Wilkin (Golden Books, $3.99)
‘Twas The Night Before Christmas or Account Of A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore (Applesauce Press, $13.95)
How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (Random House, $14)
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, $12)
My Two Holidays, A Hanukkah and Christmas Story by Danielle Novack and Phyllis Harris (Cartwheel Books, $5.99)
Light The Lights, A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah And Christmas by Margaret Moorman (Cartwheel Books, $6)
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15)