My Kids Celebrate Both Chanukah and Christmas- Here’s Why

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Menorah candles for Chanukah

We’re getting ready to light Chanukah candles at our house…with our Christmas tree in the background.

Like 31 percent of American couples, my husband and I come from different religions. I was raised Catholic but no longer practice. My husband’s parents grew up in different faith backgrounds, and neither of them is religious; culturally, he feels most connected to the Jewish side of his family. Our wedding had an an interfaith ketubah, a chuppah and a hora, and the groom insisted on observing the tradition of stomping on a glass. But we don’t belong to a synagogue or a church, and we don’t practice any religion.

We started talking more about religion and culture when our first baby was on the way. Although a “fallen-away” Catholic, I wanted to make sure we raised children who weren’t hostile to or suspicious of religion. And we both wanted our children to grow up understanding and being proud of their Jewish heritage.

That’s how our Decembers ended up becoming a cavalcade of celebrations.

Chanukah is a fun, accessible way to help our kids connect with Judaism. Because my brother is also the parent of a part-Jewish child, Chanukah has been part of our family’s holiday season since before my kids were born. Then our daughter attended Jewish preschool, where she got excited about the festival, and now she’s the one who wants to know when it will be time to light the Chanukkiah we got as a wedding gift. 

Our celebration is pretty low-key. The kids might get a couple of gifts, mostly books, and we’ve held off on playing dreidel until everyone’s fine motor skills are a little more advanced. I’ll probably make latkes one night. And we’ll definitely listen to the Chanukah songs on the Peter, Paul & Mary holiday album at least a thousand times. It’s not as big a deal in our house as Christmas, but the Festival of Lights is always a part of our winter.

Meanwhile, when it comes to Christmas, I don’t shy away from talking to my kids about the holiday’s significance in Christianity. I don’t consider myself a Catholic anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t put out my Nativity scenes. To me, the holiday is about much more than the birth of Jesus. But since we’ve chosen to celebrate the holiday called Christmas (instead of, I don’t know, Solstice or Saturnalia or some other midwinter holiday), I would feel insincere if I didn’t acknowledge to my children the Christian story of Jesus’ birth. That’s a part of their heritage, too.

Although we’ve opted not to raise our children in any faith, it’s important to us that they feel some connection to their heritage, especially as we’ve watched the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in our country. My kids may not be religious, but they’re Jewish enough that some people will hate them for it. Our small Chanukah celebration is helping them form a connection to and pride in their Jewish heritage to counter the anti-Semitism they’re bound to encounter in their lives.

And lest I forget, there’s one more cultural tradition my husband insists on observing: We always eat Chinese food for dinner on Christmas Day.

Chanukah and Christmas

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