Growing up, my brother and I were the product of a dual religion household. My mother was Jewish, and my father is Christian. While we were raised Jewish, our foray into organized religion pretty much ended after our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at the age of 13. So while our formal religious education was relaxed, our appreciation and celebration of holidays both Jewish and Christian was the height of fun. And the winter holidays in December were always our favorite.
We learned to make my Dad’s family’s Christmas fruit salad and pumpkin bread while our maternal grandmother taught us how to make the most delicious latkes in the land. We spun the dreidel in the glow of our Christmas tree lights. We sent gift lists to both Santa Claus and Hanukkah Harry. We opened a LOT of gifts, ate a ton of amazing food, spent time with family and friends and got to enjoy that magical holiday season feeling twice as much. In raising my own daughter in a pretty non-religious dual religion household, I try to keep in mind the things that I loved best as a child and appreciate the most as an adult about incorporating all of both my husband and I’s beliefs. Navigating all of this as mostly not-religious people can be tough.
Here are some tips for being a dual religion family during the winter holiday season:
- Do respect each other’s religions, cultures and traditions. Nothing is going to wreck the holiday celebrations quicker than hurt feelings between parents about differences. Try to find similarities in your holiday traditions when incorporating them into your daily lives and ask each other questions. There has been more than once in our seventeen years together that I’ve had to call my Grandma or my husband has had to call his mom with a religion question that the other has asked! We have both learned a lot and it has really helped both of us talk to our daughter about both of the religions represented in our home
- Don’t expect other families to “get it,” and be ready to help your children deal with that. Growing up, I had friends who were Jewish and friends who were some form of Christian, but no other friends who were both. My friends’ reactions ran the gamut from curiosity to bewilderment to rude. If you’re navigating the holidays in an alternative religion setting remind your kids that every family does things differently and that’s OK! There might be some people who express discomfort at things that are different, but don’t let their feelings affect you. In turn, it’s a great way to be show our kids why it’s so important to be mindful of respecting others’ beliefs.
- Do invite friends of other religions than yours over to celebrate. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children and each other is the gift of knowledge. Learning about other religions and cultures during a holiday season helps us all celebrate our differences while teaching more about ourselves and our heritage.
- Don’t feel like you have to do it all every year. I can remember my mom struggling with all of the decorations, events, food, gifts and holiday shopping times two, and I vow not to do that to myself. The most important thing to me is balance, not quantity. Do your best to incorporate what you or your partner love about your religion’s holiday traditions and put your all into those things when you’re teaching your own family.
- Do give thought to reminding your children why we celebrate these holidays in the first place. Our family is admittedly very non-religious for a multitude of reasons so our emphasis is more on the community outreach/helping our neighbors/spreading good wishes part of the winter holidays. My daughter enjoys books about both Hanukkah and Christmas. I place a big emphasis on doing mitzvahs (good deeds) for others and the need for friendship, love and inclusion of everyone when we talk about Hanuakkah. I’m admittedly much more rusty on my Christianity, but my husband talks to her about Jesus and his good works in his community, and how those works translate to today.
- Don’t feel gift pressure. Just because you are doubling up on holidays doesn’t mean you have to double up on gifts too. One of the parts of the Hanukkah story is the Jews being able to make the oil they had left in the temple last for eight day instead of the one it should have lasted for. That has translated into the tradition of giving a gift each night for eight nights. Which is really fun when you’re a kid because dragging out gift giving for eight days is awesome. As most of us know as adults the holiday season is expensive and gift giving adds to that financial stress ten-fold. So our compromise is that we give our daughter one big Hanukkah gift on one night, and smaller things when we light the Menorah and say the prayer on the other seven nights. Obviously if we only celebrated Hanukkah this would be different, and things may change as she gets older and learns more about our religions and customs. For now though, this works for us and helps to cut down on the amount of gifts. It leaves room for a big gift on Christmas morning too, which is important to my husband.
- Do have fun with it. I loved growing up in a household that celebrated two different winter holidays because it felt like the magical winter holiday season was even more so. I got to celebrate two vastly different holidays with different foods, traditions, songs, stories, decor…everything! I loved my grandparents’ annual Hanukkah party on the first Sunday of the holiday with our Hanukkah stockings overflowing (Yes, we had Hanukkah stockings), latkes sizzling on the stove, the menorah glowing and the dreidels lined up with plenty of Hanukkah gelt ready to go. I also loved the quiet sanctity of Christmas Eve at home with my parents and brother, shopping and wrapping for our annual adopted family; and that unmatchable Christmas morning excitement, sneaking down the stairs with my brother early on Christmas morning and trying so hard not to peek while we ran in to get our parents.
I am so happy that my daughter will make similar memories as she grows up in our own Hanukkamas home. Happy Holidays!