1.) Communicate With Your Partner Before Speaking with the Children. Being on the same page with your partner is crucial. Traditions and culture can be very emotional, so communication is key. Have a conversation with your partner before the holidays, and if you can, before you get married. Talk about the things that are important to you – traditions you wish to uphold in your household and listen to your partner when he/she expresses those things as well. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington suggests having these conversations BEFORE you speak with your kids so they sense that their parents are on the same page.
2.) Be Respectful of the Grandparent Generation.
Think about ways you want to honor and include the grandparents. It can be nice to have a special celebration for each holiday with each set of grandparents. You can visit the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s PJ Library page for ideas to do for the Jewish holidays.
3.) Give Each Holiday Its Due.
Make sure you give enough attention to each tradition separately. Sometimes mashing up traditions like having latkes on Christmas isn’t the best way to do it. What are the traditions that each of you grew up doing on Christmas Day? Which are important and can be incorporated? Which may need to be adjusted or compromised on? When possible, have a Christmas celebration at a different time than the Chanukah celebration, though you should light the menorah candles every night of Chanukah, even when there’s overlap. The Federation’s resources can help families add a bit more about the values around Chanukah like working to make the world brighter and warmer like the lights of Chanukah do.
4.) Find a Good Time to Talk With Your Kids.
Talking with your kids about tradition is important but finding a good time to do it can be hard. Try speaking with your kids during reading time. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington implements PJ Library in Greater Washington which delivers free children’s books about Jewish topics to Jewish and interfaith families. One book that is a good way to bring up the subject of the holidays is Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise, which is about an interfaith family.
5.) Find a Good Way to Talk With Your Kids.
Other than reading time, boys, in particular, are good to speak with when they are using their hands. Crafts can be a great time to start a conversation around tradition. Making a menorah out of glass votives or mason jars is a nice craft to do to speak about Chanukah. This can be done with materials that parents have at home or can be easily obtained – glass jars, votives or tealight holders and decorations such as Sharpies, tissue paper, glue, paint, and stickers. Get the directions here.
By Sarah Rabin Spira, Manager, PJ Library at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
This season has been called the “December Dilemma” because of the confusion children may feel due to the proximity of Chanukah and Christmas. But confusion and anxiety may also occur in adults when issues of competing cultures arise, and the pressure may be acute for interfaith families. For that reason, we choose to call this the “December Opportunity,” an opening for families to have honest discussions about cultures, rituals, identity, and respect.
When individuals of different faiths, or even when individuals within variations of the practice of Judaism, become partners, the thing to remember is that you are partners, working together to build a life built on trust, communication, kindness, and generosity. Have the conversations before issues arise when they can be addressed calmly rather than in the frantic rush of emotions that come with an intense holiday season (that seems to start earlier each year). Be open about what your absolute needs are, what you can compromise on and what traditions you can start together that feel unique, special and “yours.”
Recognize that there may be new topics that arise or previous ones that were not considered and just be in a space to work through them together. Remember that there is no right or wrong answer, and you have to do what works best for you and your family at this time of year. That might mean a different path in different years depending on changing comfort levels and the ages of the children.
Be aware that there are sensibilities and sensitivities on both sides, likely going back to childhood memories that your partner may wish to recreate. Be respectful to their families but clear that these are the decisions made by partners, not by individuals within the relationship.
And while it’s tempting to call a Christmas tree a “Chanukah Bush,” another key to success is to maintain the distinctiveness of different holidays. Can you have latkes on Christmas Eve? Sure. But it might be better to reserve them for their own dates if they don’t overlap that year. Feeling like each holiday (and its accompanying memories, family opinions, traditions) is being honored will help make the holiday season a time of opportunity to reflect, redefine and rejoice.
Another perspective comes from Laurel Snyder, who wrote There’s No Such Thing as the December Dilemma for Interfaith Family. You don’t have to create a competition between a massive media soaked holiday and a modest home-based one. Let each one shine on its own merits.
Chanukah: A collection of blessings, songs, recipes and more!
Deepen your family’s Chanukah experience, beyond the gelt and glitz and gifts. Read about values derived from the story of Chanukah, with pieces for learning, asking, doing and reading.