On the day after Thanksgiving, we put up our holiday decorations. A wreath made of colored balls in the shape of a peace sign goes on our front door. We put our menorah on our dining room table, and our vintage tinsel Christmas tree gets assembled in our family room.
My husband is Jewish, and I am not.
I know all the Hanukkah prayers. I make latkes and brisket and buy the best sufganiyot — the raspberry-filled version from Flour Bakery. My husband hangs ornaments, puts on his red-and-green-plaid pajama pants, and reads “The Sweet Smell of Christmas” (as my dad did) to our daughters. We’re raising our children Jewish, but we celebrate Christmas. Our home is the picture of holiday harmony — but it took us 10 years to get here.
Early in our relationship, we took a class with other interfaith couples to help us communicate about our faith and values so that we could successfully combine them in our home. Can you guess the single biggest issue among every single couple? If you said the Christmas tree, you’d be correct.
It’s just a tree. With some decorations. What’s the big deal?
To me, it’s my favorite tradition. My favorite memory of my childhood Christmas. I grew up in rural Oregon. Every year, my family would go into the woods to cut down our own tree. There would often be snow. We’d bring hot cocoa and apple cider, and on the way home we’d stop for pizza. To my husband, it represents every part of the holiday — everything Jewish people just don’t do.
But marriage — especially interfaith marriage — is all about compromise. We’ve celebrated Hanukkah essentially the same way since we met, and we’ve celebrated Christmas many different ways — by ourselves on the couch, with my parents in Oregon, in Miami with Chinese food and a movie, in Boston with my parents and Legal Seafood and a movie, and now, in the suburbs with our daughters and my parents. I think that last one is the one that will stick.
On December 12, we’ll light the candle for the first night of Hanukkah. My girls will get small gifts for each of the nights — stickers, bows, tattoos, bubbles, books, etc. On one of the nights, our non-Jewish neighbors will come over for dinner with latkes, sufganiyot, dreidel, and gelt. On Christmas Eve, we’ll go out for pizza with my parents. The tradition was started by my grandmother, who didn’t want to cook big meals two nights in a row. On Christmas Day, we open stockings from Santa. My daughters get two or three gifts from us and one or two from my parents. We’ll eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, pull our crackers, and wear our paper crowns.
But won’t the kids be confused, celebrating both?
This was one of the arguments my husband made as we discussed the issue of “the tree.” In the class we took, another member answered this argument, saying, “No. They won’t be confused. Whatever you do with them, however you celebrate, will be the thing they know. It will be what’s true to them.”
Throughout the month of December, we’ll be in the holiday spirit, which isn’t limited to the holiday of any one religion. We’ll enjoy being together as a family. We’ll put money in every Salvation Army jar we see and give toys and warm jackets to kids who don’t have them. Because to me, these December holidays (whether Hanukkah or Christmas) are less about religion and more about family and friends. They’re about the fundamental goodness of people, about giving of yourself to others, and about holiday miracles. And I hope those things are what will be true to my children, this year and every year.