Years ago, interfaith families faced what was called the "December Dilemma": whether to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. With the increase in Christian-Jewish marriages, however, it has become much more commonplace to celebrate both, but many interfaith families still choose to focus on only one. If you're faced with this choice for your family, or perhaps seeking to understand these choices, read on for some reasons families give for celebrating, or not celebrating, both Hanukkah and Christmas.
How to Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas
For those parents who are deeply religious, raising a child in two different religions, or at least celebrating the holidays of another religion, can be quite conflicting. A parent may feel that embracing both faiths may represent more of a mixed, or diluted, faith and that the child may not ever fully be a part of either. Indeed, many Rabbis advise on choosing one religion for the child. A parent may also simply wish for their child to experience the same faith community that they did. Others feel that the most important thing is to provide their child with a strong foundation in one religion, regardless of which one.
Parents who do not strongly identify with their respective faiths also face a dilemma when it comes to celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas: should other religious holidays (Easter, Passover, etc.) also be taught and celebrated? Some parents may worry that by celebrating both, children will see their situation as simply an opportunity to collect more presents.
Despite such concerns, many interfaith families today teach and celebrate both and cite various reasons for doing so.
One argument is that the holiday season is more about celebrating traditions, culture, and history. After all, many Christmas traditions may have pagan or pre-Christian origins. With many non-Christians partaking in Christmas celebrations, it has become a secular holiday for many. Some Jewish families like to celebrate Christmas so that their kids do not feel "left out" among Christian peers. More importantly, gaining familiarity with both holidays and religions makes a child more culturally literate. Additionally, children thrive on ritual such as decorating a Christmas tree or lighting a menorah, even if they are too young to understand its religious context. For many adults, family traditions such as these are among one's most cherished childhood memories.
Many interfaith communities aim to educate, not preach, Christianity and Judaism. The Interfaith Community, a nonprofit group throughout the nation, acknowledges Christianity and Judaism are different but both equally valid paths to God which provide guidelines for living morally. Their objective is not to raise children in both religions but to educate them and provide them the tools to do with what they wish when older.
Many families see no issue celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas since both are intertwined. After all, Christianity sprang from Judaism. Jews still recognize, and study, Jesus as a historical figure.
Susan Katz Miller, author of "Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family", points out that both holidays share the theme of the miracle of light: for Christians, the Star of Bethlehem guiding the Magi to Jesus; for Jews, the burning of the Menorah for eight days.
Some argue against raising kids in two faiths on the grounds that they will be confused. On the contrary, kids are actually pretty good at handling conflicting stories or embracing multiple identities. It's only as adults that we tend to prefer a single "truth".
And there are certainly advantages to raising a child in two faiths. By doing so, one gives the child the understanding that there are many different views in the world. Interfaith experiences can also teach kids to respect the value in other people's views, religious or not. Further, interfaith kids can go on to become bridge-builders among different groups. And from a purely practical standpoint, bringing a child up in both faiths makes it easier for extended family of both faiths to connect with the child during the holidays.
Choosing one religion and set of holidays works for many families, but not all. If you and your family decide to celebrate both holidays with your children you'll eventually have to contend with questions from your children (but then again, children ask questions no matter what!). A great explanation about the holidays is this: You don't have to be Jewish to celebrate Hanukkah, and you don't have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas. It's nice to help others people celebrate, much like it's fun to celebrate another person's birthday.
Check out Daily Mom's Guide to Christmas
for more holiday articles and gift guides!
Jewish Telegraphic Agency: Some Families Solve Annual Dilemma by Celebrating Christmas, Chanukkah
The Huffington Post: 8 Reasons My Interfaith Family Celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas by Susan Katz Miller
Photo credits: The Whimsical Photographer