It seems like the holiday season has been starting earlier and earlier in the calendar. This year, I noticed Christmas decorations before Halloween had ended! Along with the decorations came discussions in many interfaith families about how to address the “December Dilemma,” shorthand for the decision process about how to conceptualize and celebrate the December holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. As the moderator of The Mothers Circle email listserve, I’ve been privileged to witness some of the incredibly thoughtful, moving, and sometimes painful reflection that goes into making these decisions. As I wrote to mothers on the list last month, the “Dilemma” can be extremely powerful and emotional, even in families that feel relatively at peace with other elements of their religious choices.
The decision about whether or not to hang a wreath or have a Christmas tree in the home runs deeper than aesthetic preferences. It cuts to the heart of many issues that might remain unspoken at other times of the year: Our histories and childhoods, our philosophies about tradition and family culture, the power dynamics in our relationships, our attachments to our relatives, our hopes for our children, and our sense of religious and cultural identity. If you are struggling with how to manage the holiday season in your interfaith family, I hope you take credit for the courage it takes to approach these topics. If you know someone who is struggling, now is the perfect time to show your respect and support or to listen with open ears.
This issue appeared again in an article about the North Shore-area Mothers Circle group in Massachusetts that recently ran in The Salem News. The family featured in the article made the decision to have a tree in their home this year and plan not to have a tree next year in the hopes of making the holiday season less confusing for their younger daughter. This is one example of how a family has grappled with how to address their two holiday traditions, but there are many options. What is your family planning this holiday season?