I am the first person in my family to have married someone outside my religion. Same goes for my husband (we think). It’s been pretty wonderful to be able to share our different holidays with one another, without having to negotiate which of our families we are spending what holiday with. Now that we have kids, the holidays are even more fun (and exhausting), and have enabled us to form our unique holiday traditions and come up with ways our family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas.
We keep our celebrations pretty simple. I mean, both my partner and I work full-time and our kids are busy with school and extra-curricular activities. So other than putting up some decorations the kids have made in school, and getting them on board with the concept of giving rather than receiving, there isn’t too much we do to specifically celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah (Chanukah). We want the kids to know why those holidays are significant to our respective families, but we don’t attend church or go to synagogue, so our kids have only rudimentary knowledge of the religious origins of these particular holidays.
As they get older, they will be more curious about religion, I’m sure. They already ask us frequently if we believe in God. I don’t, but my husband tends to avoid the question. For now, at ages nine and six, we can keep our explanations pretty basic and grounded in the idea that the more we are exposed to a variety of cultures and practices, the more we’ll understand each other. Keeping that in mind, here are a few ways our family celebrates both Chanukah and Christmas:
We Spin Dreidels And Eat Christmas Cookies
I don’t bake, but we always seem to be gifted some homemade Christmas cookies by co-workers. So after we’ve chowed down on all the Chanukah gelt playing dreidel, we need to bet with cookies. Win-win.
We’ve Spent Chanukah At One Set Of Grandparents’...
Since we live in the same neighborhood as my parents, we typically head over to their place to kick off Chanukah. They have a “real” menorah, where as ours is kid-friendly and made of vinyl and velcro. The children say the Chanukah prayer with my mother, and we spend the next hour keeping them away from the flames until the candles burn down.
…And Christmas At The Other’s...
While my husband’s family lives about seven hours away, we would visit them for Christmas. It was great not to have any conflicts about where to spend the holiday. Being with his side of the family was a no-brainer (until they moved all the way down to Florida).
...Or We Have Christmas On Chanukah
Christmas Day falls on the first day of Chanukah (Jewish holidays always commence at sundown, so technically the first night of Chanukah is on Christmas Eve). Now we can celebrate everything at once with our family. The real joy in this scenario is that cuts the wrapping paper clean-up in half.
We Don’t Go Overboard On Gifts
I remember being so jealous of my friends who celebrated both holidays growing up, thinking they received double the amount of gifts. Eight nights of Chanukah plus 12 days of Christmas really add up. However, we don’t give our kids a gift for every night of Chanukah. That is just crazy, and unnecessary, and I feel it cheapens the whole spirit of giving because gifts lose their "specialness." Our kids get little trinkets from my side of the family for Chanukah and we’ll give them one gift each for that holiday.
For Christmas, we set a budget, and stick to it. They’re too young, in my opinion, to receive big ticket items like tablets and game systems. And as they get older and start wanting that stuff, they’ll have to do more than just write it on their wish list; they’ll have to prove they’re responsible enough to care for it.
We Are Holiday Agnostic In Our Cards
I know the rest of the world has gone digital, but we still send out actual holiday cards, mostly to appease the older members of our families. However, we don’t write “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Chanukah.” We just reference peace, love, and happiness and wish everyone the best for the new year. We offend no one, and we keep religion out of the picture, since we don’t practice anything.
We Have A Christmas Tree And A Menorah
We’ve only recently started putting up a Christmas tree. It’s something festive that, to me, doesn’t so much signify the religious aspects of the holiday but the celebratory ones. Ours is artificial, and comes pre-lit and you can change the light patterns with a phone app and have it play music and it’s over the top and ridiculous and we love it. Then, a few days into January, we break it down, pack it up and stow it away.
Our menorah is a piece of vinyl that unfurls to reveal little pockets where you place the velcro candles, adding one each night. It hangs under a mini fake tree, perched on our mantle, and at the end of the holiday season, I roll it up and put it away. No silver to polish or leftover candle wax to scrape. If celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas feels like too much work, take it from this lazy mom: it’s totally doable.
We Have A Christmas Tree That Morphs Into A Menorah
I found the best holiday card ever a few years ago, and kept it for myself. It’s a hologram, where if you tilt it one way, you see a Christmas tree, but if you tilt it another, you see a menorah. You can toggle between the outstretched branches and the eight candle holders and it perfectly depicts the way our family embraces our mix of seasonal celebrations.
We Actually Kind Of Celebrate Neither
Neither my husband and I have chosen to practice our respective religions, or any religion. So I consider myself culturally Jewish, because that is my heritage. To that end, we want our kids to know the stories behind the two holidays we honor, in our own way, this time of year, but more from a cultural and historical standpoint. Our belief system is rooted in The Golden Rule. We are raising our kids to be good, and to do good, because it will make their time on this planet more meaningful for them and others. If they choose to subscribe to a different philosophy when they are older, that will be their choice.
But for now, we program our fake tree, light our fake menorah, and try to keep the peace when holiday fatigue sets in over their break from school.