Can interfaith families successfully celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas? Every December, hundreds of thousands of interfaith families find themselves asking this question and looking for guidance. Over the last ten years, as intermarriage rates have reached nearly fifty percent in the Jewish community, the number of families who struggle with this question has steadily grown. Often called the “December Dilemma,” the debate is especially relevant this year since the fourth night of Hanukkah overlaps with Christmas Eve.
That’s why JOI’s executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky has come up with a few suggestions to help interfaith families move smoothly through the holiday season and beyond:
- Supersize Hanukkah. Make sure you “do Jewish” regularly during the overpowering Christmas season. Starting at Thanksgiving, retailers and radio stations are stuck on a Christmas loop. Luckily, Hanukkah lasts eight nights. That gives families eight chances to celebrate and express Hanukkah through lighting a Menorah or putting up decorations.
- Celebrate the holidays at your in-laws’ homes if you can. Grandparents, extended family, and friends will be happy to share their celebration with you over a holiday dinner, and it can remove tension from your own home.
- Be open. This sounds easy, but it’s frequently a lesson overlooked. If you are going to celebrate the holidays together, make sure you have talked this through ahead of time. One simple rule is that talking about things works, and not talking about things doesn’t work. You’ll be surprised how far a little dialogue will take you.
- Acknowledge the compromise your partner is making. When a spouse casts their lot with a new religion and a new set of traditions, even if they aren’t converting, the holidays can be a reminder of the traditions that spouse is giving up. If you have agreed to celebrate Hanukkah, let your partner know that there is room if they want to carve out space for a token of their faith.
- Have a sense of humor. Between dinners, decorating and family obligations, trying to navigate through Hanukkah and Christmas has the potential to cause an undue amount of stress. Taking a few minutes to find something funny in the holidays can relieve the pressure and remind you that this is a time for celebration and joy.
These suggestions are only a place to start. Volumes could be written on how interfaith families have dealt with the issues that arise not only in December but throughout the year. Each family is different, and each has to find the best path to create a successful and meaningful holiday season.
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