During the winter holiday season, multifaith families find themselves in the unique and sometimes difficult position of navigating both Chanukah and Christmas in the same month. Family dynamics are complicated enough without the added nature of how families engage in multiple holiday traditions. That said, there is much to learn and gain from facing these challenges head on and considering it an opportunity to engage meaningfully within one’s family system.
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Challenges and Opportunities
Below are five positive aspects that multifaith families can embrace at this time of year:
- There is an opportunity to learn new things about yourself, your partner, and/or your extended family members. What a great time to reflect on each person’s personal experiences with their religion and holiday traditions growing up while learning about those of your partner and extended family members. Find and nurture the similarities of these meaningful traditions, while honoring and giving voice to what is unique and special to each person.
- There is an opportunity to improve communication and self-advocacy. Use this time to be respectfully clear about what you want and need while listening carefully to what your loved ones want and need as well. Practicing good communication skills (speaking and listening) at this time of year, enable those skills to be honed and employed throughout the year as other challenges arise.
- There is an opportunity to improve negotiation and compromise skills. The Rolling Stones said it best in their song titled, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Clarifying each person’s needs and desires along with respectful negotiation enables family members to dialogue about honoring each other and allows each family member to create a holiday celebration that is meaningful to them.
- There is an opportunity to come together as an adult couple in order to decide what is right for your family. Alignment (not necessarily agreement) between a couple is key to maintaining a peaceful home. This time of year presents a wonderful opportunity for couples to honor their bond and commitment to one another by determining what is best for themselves as a family unit and then communicating that vision to their extended family.
- There is an opportunity to create new traditions. Allow the past to inform the future, but not be the sole guide. Creating new traditions can be exciting, uplifting, collaborative, and community building.
Below are three potential challenges that multifaith families face at this time of year and suggestions on how to resolve them:
- Non-Jewish spouses and family members may have trouble understanding the lived experience of being a Jewish person during the “Christmas season.” It is helpful to share some of the struggles of growing up as a Jewish person in a Christian majority world during this time of year. Some Jews may have felt left out of holiday celebrations, some Jews may have been singled out as the “representative Jew” in class, and some Jews may have felt that their holiday experience was sub-par to Christmas. Giving space and a listening ear to those experiences will go a long way to making this time of year more positive for everyone.
- Chanukah and Christmas, simply because they take place around the same time of year, may give rise to a false sense of competition between the holidays. Having conversations about each person’s needs and desires and the establishment of new family traditions can be helpful in combatting the competitive nature of the holiday season. This is discussed more as you continue reading.
- For those families who celebrate multiple religions in one household, there is sometimes concern about the conflicting tenets of the holidays especially for children. One suggestion is for families to focus more on the cultural aspects of the holidays rather than on the religious aspects (understanding that they can be interrelated). For instance, families can put more emphasis on family connections and stories, traditional foods, and music as well as common values such as hope, light, giving, miracles, and belief.
Chanukah isn’t Jewish Christmas:
Benefits of celebrating Chanukah in its own “light” as opposed to comparing it to (and competing with) Christmas…
You know Chanukah isn’t the Jewish Christmas, right?! Often, at the core of the frustration felt during the December holiday season is the over-abundance of Christmas displays (decorations, music, celebrations, etc.) throughout the community and the dearth of Chanukah representation. This frustration is a problem that the Jewish community may have created for ourselves.
Whether you are a Jewish family or a multifaith family, it might benefit everyone to change the way we think about these two distinct holidays when they interact with each other. What might the holiday experience be like if, rather than putting them on the same scale, we created separate scales that honor, recognize, and celebrate both?
Consider the following four viewpoints on ways to think about Chanukah (through the comparative Christmas lens) differently in the future:
- The article entitled, ‘The December Dilemma’ on kveller.org shares a story of one family embracing the essence of Chanukah. “…our Rabbi talked about what she called the ‘real’ miracle of Hanukkah. She told us how every night she drove home with her children and watched their eyes fix on house after house, decorated with colored lights and trees and inflatable reindeer. And how they would enter their own dark home and turn on the heat. And the kids would set the candles in the menorah while she made dinner, and then together they would say the blessings and light the lights. “It’s not the oil,” she told us. “Or winning the war. It’s the choice to carry on our traditions, even when the alternatives shine so brightly. This story highlights the fact that when we make it about a competition between Christmas and Chanukah, we dilute the significance of Chanukah and the lessons it teaches.
- The article entitled, ‘There’s No Such Thing as the December Dilemma’ on 18doors.org asks us to think about the light of Chanukah in terms of what it is rather than by comparing it to another (brighter) light. “Think about light—there are fireworks in the world, and then there are fireplaces. Both are illuminating. But they meet different needs. If you measure the cheery glow of a fireplace against the bombastic blaze of fireworks, you’ll be disappointed. But if you stare deep into the hearth, accept it on its own terms, and warm your hands, you can’t help but see its distinct beauty. You can’t help but recognize how much you need it.” The firework versus fireplace analogy reminds us that it isn’t about one being better than the other, rather both are beautiful, both are enjoyed, and both have their distinct time, purpose, and place.
- In the same article referenced above, the author suggests that we imagine how different things might be if Chanukah took place at a different time of the year. “…there’s no such thing as the December Dilemma. Or rather, that this is a problem we’ve created for ourselves, out of anxiety and insecurity. If this is the case, the obvious solution to our problem is to release that anxiety and turn our attention to enjoying our own distinct holiday, to making Hanukkah a resonant, meaningful season. Just as we do with Passover or Sukkot. When we aren’t measuring ourselves against jingle bells and candy canes.” Basically, if Chanukah didn’t happen at the same time of year as Christmas, there wouldn’t even be an issue! It is exclusively because Chanukah happens at the same general time of year as Christmas that Jews have created this dilemma.
- The article entitled, ‘Should Hanukkah Be the Jewish Christmas’ on myjewishlearning.com talks about Chanukah being enough for the Jews. “The traditionalists among us might recoil at such a thought. After all, according to the (second) blessing we recite when lighting our candles, Hanukkah celebrates a great miracle that our ancestors experienced in 165 BCE. It is a holiday that enables us to champion particularism over assimilation, valorize ritual observance (both in Temple times and our own), and praise God for the miracle of a single cruse of oil lasting a full eight days. Why tarnish these virtues by dipping into a Christian(ish) context? Aren’t dreidels, latkes, candles, and gelt enough?” Think of the age old adage, appreciate what you have rather than covet what you don’t.
Curated Links to Resources
The internet is a wonderful source of information, ideas, guidance, and support for multifaith families. Below are a few we wanted to highlight:
- For families needing help figuring out where to begin the conversation or how to have meaningful conversations around preparing for the December holiday season, check out this article entitled, ‘December Holiday Conversation Starters’ on 18doors.org at
- For families celebrating multiple holidays in their home/family and want to find a way to honor each holiday in a meaningful way, check out this article entitled, ‘The Guide to December Holiday Decision Making Means Compromise’ on 18doors.org at
- For thirty additional articles looking at different aspects of the “December Dilemma,” check out this article entitled, ‘The December Dilemma’ on myjewishlearning.com at