The store windows. The holiday specials. The everything-must-go sales. If you can escape relatively unscathed from the drama and stress the season brings, this can actually be the most wonderful time of the year. For our interfaith family, there are so many reasons why celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas is the best. It’s not because we all get more presents than singular faith families (my husband and I make sure we don’t, actually), but because we feel like such a big part of our community.
Without a tree or other Christmas decorations, I always felt like I was missing something. When I was a child I would beg my parents to hang lights up, since Hanukkah (Chanukah) is the festival of lights. While it was nice to be able to spend time with friends who invited us to their Christmas celebrations (and those OMG Christmas Eve dinners), there were years where Christmas was just another day and, yeah, we would go out for Chinese (like so many other Jewish families).
However, since I married my Catholic husband (in a secular wedding ceremony, might I add), I have Christmas in my life and he has Chanukah in his. As a result, our interfaith kids have both, which gives us so many wonderful reasons why this time of year is the absolute best.
You Have Double The Celebrations…
While I’m careful not to let our calendar get so full we end up not enjoying any of it, it’s nice to have so many options. Celebrating in different ways, with different groups of people, is what makes this season (in a place like my home of New York City) really special for me. I love that my kids get to experience this holiday variety.
…But You Can Scale Back On Everything
Since we celebrate both holidays — with food, family, and gifts — we don’t go all out with any of it. For many, it seems Christmas is the highlight of the year and for others it can be the absolute worst. For us, since we have Chanukah too, we don’t up the stakes too much with holidays in general. Keeping expectations low and not throwing extravagant gatherings or holing up in the kitchen cooking for days on end, is a way we get to enjoy it all.
You Can Host Your Jewish Family On Christmas…
The second night of Chanukah coincides with Christmas, so we’re having my (all Jewish) family over to our place. It’s so nice not to have competing invitations for the holidays, and to be able to spend it with our families in ways that make (most) everyone happy. Of course, you can't please everyone all of the time, but we come close.
…And Your Catholic Family On Chanukah
We actually have never done this, since my husband’s family lives several hours from us in multiple directions. However, in theory we could totally have a goyim celebration as we light the Menorah, serve latkes, and bet our Chanukah gelt as we spin the dreidel.
You Get To Say ‘Chrismukkah’
It’s just fun to say, even if it’s not actually a thing. If you get a toddler to try to say it, it’s pretty amazing.
You Get To Teach Your Kids There Is No "One" Way To Be Festive
Sharing our Christmas and Jewish celebrations with our kids is a way they are learning that there are many different ways to honor their heritage. While we go about our celebrations pretty much the same way — food, family, and lights — it’s good for our children to know that they are two distinct holidays, with very different backstories.
I’m Jewish And I Always Wanted A Christmas Tree
Being able to celebrate both holidays, since my husband was raised Catholic, means I get my tree and my lights without feeling like I’m faking the holiday. We still have a menorah and dreidels, but I get to enjoy the vestiges of Christmas without cheating on my own upbringing.
You Can Use Any Kind Of Wrapping Paper
I remember my mother being frustrated that the options for Chanukah-themed gift wrap were so limited. Now, if I find some, it’s fine, but if I use Christmas-themed wrap, it’s all good, too. Truly, I prefer the secular designs depicting winter scenes. But now, if I absolutely had to wrap a gift with Santa paper, our interfaith family can pull it off.
We Get To Be A Part Of Numerous, Different Traditions
Spinning dreidels, singing carols; it all applies to us. Growing up Jewish in a predominantly Christian society, I never really felt I was part of the holiday season, since it skewed towards Christmas. Now that Christmas is as much a part of our seasonal celebrations as Chanukah is, I love that I get a chance, and that my kids have the opportunity, to participate in all kinds of festivities and feel represented by them.
We Can Make Our Own Traditions
Since we’re not religious, we pick and choose the parts of the holidays that feel most applicable to how we live our lives and the values we want to impart to our kids. Exchanging gifts? Yes. Making elaborate meals requiring days of kitchen prep? No. Donating time, money, and goods to those in need? Yes. Attending services? No. This Christmas Day, which coincides with Chanukah, we are serving latkes and lots of appetizers from the freezer section of Trader Joe’s. There will be something edible (or quaffable) with cranberries. Our fake tree will be lit, our velcro menorah will have two candles attached, and we’ll be feeling so fortunate that we are celebrating our holidays in our own ways, in our own home, with not too many people (because headaches are not part of the plan).
Happy holidays! (Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa. Or any combination of the three.)