How My Interfaith Family Celebrates the Holiday Season

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My favorite holiday is Christmas. I love everything about it: the music, food, decorations, the spirit of giving, books and movies, and the joy that surrounds the season. My husband of six years knows this all too well. He has cut down the tree, put up the lights, listened to the music (much to his chagrin), and baked the cookies. He celebrates my favorite holiday with me year after year and has come to enjoy it. It is all the more endearing to me given that it’s something he didn’t grow up celebrating in his own family.

 

My husband is Jewish, and I was raised Catholic. We consider ourselves an interfaith family and proudly celebrate traditions from both faiths. Just as he has adopted Christmas, I, too, have developed a love of Hanukkah. The holidays are even more special to us now that we get to share in these traditions with our son, Ezra.

 

We are very fortunate that our families have supported and respected our way of doing things. However, we have gotten our fair share of questions from family, friends, and even strangers, mainly, “How is this going to work when you have a kid?” Our answer is always the same. We do what works for us! Our son gets to experience traditions and holidays that we both grew up with. We also create new traditions that blend our experiences together. Here are some ways that our interfaith family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah during the holiday season.

 

a dad holding a toddler on his lap as they decorate Hanukkah sugar cookies

 

Countdown to the Holidays

 

I grew up with an advent calendar, and it’s something I always think back on fondly. I wanted to share the same tradition with my son but infuse it with both of the holidays that we celebrate this time of year. We use this neutral advent calendar with pockets from Gathre that have the date on each pocket. This way, I can include activities and small gifts in the pockets that correspond to the days of Hanukkah and those leading up to Christmas. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, this could be made cheaply using any sturdy fabric you have! Some ideas I’m including this year are Hanukkah and Christmas stickers, chocolate coins for playing dreidel, and prompts for a holiday-themed art activity or mitzvah (good deed). 

 

Books

 

For our son’s home library, I always look for books that showcase a diversity of cultures, people, and traditions. I also look for books that represent his experiences and background as well. One of our favorite interfaith holiday books is Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko. The story follows Sadie and her blended family, highlighting all of the traditions that make up the holidays for them. Another favorite, The Eight Knights of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman and Galia Bernstein, is a creative picture book that outlines many of the traditions of Hanukkah. We also like to incorporate secular stories that celebrate the season. The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis is a beautiful poem-turned-picture book about the winter solstice.

 

shelves in the home of an interfaith family filled with diverse books about both Hanukkah and Christmas

 

Art Making

 

Art is a part of our son’s daily routine, and we look to infuse that love into our holiday traditions. I grew up making ornaments for our Christmas tree and have found salt dough to be a way to create with both holidays in mind. There are countless salt dough recipes online. We like to use both our Christmas and Hanukkah cookie cutters to make snow people, trees, stockings, menorahs, stars, and dreidels. They can be painted after they are baked and are then hung on our tree or family menorah.

 

 

A mom, with her toddler on her lap, decorating Christmas cookies

 

 

Mitzvoth

 

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is giving to others. My husband and I grew up with this value, particularly during the holiday season. Doing mitzvoth–good deeds–is an important part of Judaism at Hanukkah and all year round. We like to include our son by picking out toys for a family in need or bringing food to our local food pantry. When he’s a bit older, we hope to spend time volunteering as a family too. 

 

I hope that by sharing some of our traditions, it encourages you to celebrate the holidays in whatever way works for your family. Our family has found that there is so much beauty and joy to be had when we celebrate our differences and our similarities. Happy holidays!

 

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