Interfaith Holidays: Chrismukkah

Christmas + Hanukah = ?

We've complied stories from interfaith families who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukah and how they honor these two religious holidays. We are including here two separate questions from families who have raised questions about tradition and family.

 

First member story:

“I've been putting off this topic as long as possible. Does anyone else have a mixed faith background? My husband is Jewish and grew up NOT celebrating Christmas at all. In fact, he is pretty anti. He is pretty much only culturally Jewish at this point but he still hates when I even suggest we have a tree... I grew up in a house where jesus was the reason for the season! Ha. I am not at all religious these days, but I do like the traditions around Christmas and it seems odd to have my daughter not experience Santa Claus and carols and the whole deal. If we choose not to celebrate - how do you go about explaining that to your child? Before we had our DD I would make a Chrismukkah tree - a white tree with jewish-themed ornaments. blue garland. Any ideas on creating our own traditions? Should I full-on blow out Chrismukkah in the future? Or is that weird and I should just do both Hannukah and Christmas separately? Our DD is only one year old tomorrow so this is more relevant next year but I've been thinking about it forever!”

Second member story:

“So we are encountering our first real cultural problem. I was raised Catholic and my husband Jewish, although we are now both non believers/not practicing any religion. I built up the fun about Santa for my three year old. My Jewish mother-in-law invited herself for dinner on Xmas eve (my parents will be there also). Every year she gives us presents at Thanksgiving and tells us it s for the "holidays" - never mentioned Hanukkah before. Last week I warned her that presents will appear under the tree and that they'll all come from Santa. Today she told me that she would like to tell my son, the presents are from HER on xmas eve...I replied it would confuse him and told her she could give her presents any other day and let him know this. So she ended up leaving and taking back her "holiday" present with her... Not sure how to handle this whole mess - any ideas ? What do YOU do? By the way - we usually have a VERY good relationship - mother/daughter type... Are your kids OK knowing that he gets stuff from the Jewish side and nothing from the other side (since it's all from Santa?).”

 

Responses to first member story:

 

Keep rules fluid:

"In our house we celebrate both Xmas and Chanukah, and on Christmas my daughter gets gifts both from Santa and from other people. At 8, she still has not questioned this mixed presenting. I say make it easier on yourself by keeping the “rules” fluid!"

 

Happy holidays of all kinds:

Christmas is a powerful cultural magnet in our society, and I think most Jews' self-identification as Jews involves non-celebration of Christmas, at least on some level, so this is may be an inherently emotional issue for your mother-in-law.  I won't address the correctness or incorrectness of  her behavior, but the motivation may be that she has been making an effort to go along as good-naturedly as possible with the Christmas celebration, but having her own presents transformed into Christmas gifts from Santa may rankle.

For your part, it appears that you feel all presents your son receives around this time must come from Santa.  I wonder if you might reconsider that.  Why not have your mother-in-law give your son presents at Chanukah (or Thanksgiving) while preserving the presents-from-Santa ritual for the others.  If they are given at different times under different circumstances there need be no confusion (and 2 or 3 weeks is an eternity to a 3-year-old).  You can tell him the simple truth-- that his grandmother celebrates Chanukah and gives him a special present as part of that, while the rest of you celebrate Christmas and open up presents from Santa under the tree.   He'll just be happy to get as many presents as he can, and if this is presented matter-of-factly it shouldn't present an invidious situation.  Children are more affected by feeling deprived of something they've always had, or having things changed around.   IE, a talking dog isn't unsettling if that dog has always talked-- and a grandmother who gives a present at Chanukah, but doesn't open up presents by the Christmas tree, isn't unsettling if that's just the way the world has always worked.

Find ways to incorporate family traditions:

we celebrated both Christmas and Jewish holidays (my husband is Catholic/I Jewish - also both non-religious.) His mom, my children's Catholic grandmother, always sent presents labeled from "Santa" as well as presents labeled from her. The rest of the presents under the tree were from a wide collection of folks. Everyone has their own treasured rituals from their family (or one's they rebel against.) If I had understood how much my children would cherish various things we did at holiday times, I might have been a little more thoughtful! The thing I would add, is that even if the Jewish side of the family is non-religious, Jews can easily feel left out and that their culture/traditions are not being respected due to heavy antisemitism in this country and in the world, as well as the overwhelming presence of everything Christmas. One thing you could do is at a relaxed moment ask your mother-in-law to talk about how she grew up as a Jew, and what she most wants her grandchildren to know and experience about growing up Jewish. After you listen to her for awhile, you might have a better idea of how to proceed.”

Have one special present from Santa:

In our house we celebrate Christmas, and I like to say we celebrate the Winter Solstice….but that is a whole different discussion.  We have presents from Santa and from the family.  The family presents go under the tree and we just don’t wrap Santa presents, I’m sure my mom started that tradition because it was just less work, but I have continued it because, it is less work! The Santa presents are unwrapped and ready to be played with, that way eager children can get up as early as they like, have some presents to play with and stockings to go thru, as long as all the kids go down together….and the adults can sleep a little longer if they choose to. Many families have presents under the tree marked from Santa and others marked from relatives.  One way to distinguish them is to just have a “special” Santa only wrapping present.  Back when I only had one child, and less to wrap, that is what I did!

 Just have fun with the Holidays - regardless of your faith:

“I think awkwardness of explaining to kids why they not getting presents when everyone does is not worth it. I am an atheist (no, I am not against any religion, just don't believe in it) from orthodox christian family. We got Christmas in different time, weird enough, but my family here celebrates Christmas on 25th just because it is probably biggest holiday in this country, everything around is beautiful, feel of holidays is in the air and it is just fun! Worse, my kid expects presents on New Year Eve too because it was tradition back in my country.  Kids don't care WHY there are presents on Christmas (sorry Santa!), they just love to get them (especially when everyone else does). By the way, Christmas tree on Solstice was there long before Christianity and was adopted from pagans. For most of the people Saturday (or Sunday) are just weekends, even if they have a religious meaning. Happy Holidays to everyone, Merry Christmas, S Novym Godom and Mazel Tov!”

Teach the joys of giving:

“I don't celebrate Christmas so I will admit right away that I don't understand all that making the gifts "from Santa" means to you, but I do agree with the other posters that there is nothing necessarily confusing to a child about receiving gifts from Santa and from other, real people.  I'd like to add a few more points I haven't seen:
- If your son has any exposure to popular culture (TV, movies, books) or to people outside of your immediate family, he will know that people who celebrate Christmas often give each other gifts, even if they also get gifts from Santa Claus. He will see people shopping for Christmas gifts, handing each other Christmas gifts, putting presents under the tree - in TV shows and movies, in commercials and in real life.
- By insisting that gifts come only from Santa, you are denying your son the joy of *giving*.  If you can broaden your view so that some gifts come from Santa and some from other people he can give presents to his teachers, relatives, friends.
- Do keep in mind that not everyone celebrates Christmas and not everyone who celebrates tells their children that Santa Claus is a real person.  If you teach your son that Santa brings presents to all children (or even worse, to all "good" children) be prepared for another child to set him straight.  No, that's not a "mean kid" - that's a child who knows the truth and got told by your son that Santa gives presents to everyone or to all good kids so there's something wrong with him/her if s/he doesn't get Christmas presents.”

Celebrate Both!

“We do and always have celebrated both in my house. I am a practicing, believing Christian and my husband is what he calls a cultural Jew, he was raised Jewish in a semi religious family, but, considers himself agnostic now and does not follow any religion. He is however very proud to be Jewish and wanted both of our sons to know their backgrounds. So, we do both holidays in our house and it has never been an issue. My husband has family that are believing Jews and they only do Chanukah and just simply explain to their kids that they do not celebrate Christmas since it is not a Jewish holiday but a Christian one, their kids seem to understand.”

Sometime traditions have to be adaptable to the culture, practicality, and the times

“I was raised SOOO catholic, in Italy, that even Santa and the Xmas tree were too pagan, we used to decorate homes with (very artistic) nativity scenes and the presents were from baby Jesus himself!!!!! Back home the holiday season is a marathon, we celebrate 24th, 25th and a series of saints on the 26th, 30th, and then New Years, and THEN January 6th, the Epiphany (with more presents!)...you basically spend 10 days visiting relatives, eating like crazy, dressing up and kids play until they can't take it anymore! So, here I am already breaking with that tradition, we have a Fisher Price nativity, chewable, and that's it! This is just to tell you that all things should be put in perspective, and no matter how you do things, you will always do things slightly different than others... What I do here is try to follow the many traditions we are familiar with without being too strict, so we have Santa bringing presents, we eat fish on the 24th, we try to make it to Mass (but not necessarily - almost never -in a Catholic church) and we do get more presents from the Befana on January 6th. I ALWAYS remind my son that people believe in different things...at 6 now he has a pretty clear idea of what it means being Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Atheist etc. and I am sure this will only grow with time."

Santa does not need to be a religious character:

“I do like to share the spirit of Xmas with him, but I simply tell him stories, and that what is important is to celebrate life, represented by light, by a tree, by a baby in the manger. If you think about it, and you can be Christian or Jewish, Santa is really not a religious character after all. Just a nice guy! :-) If your kids have a Jewish grandmother, you HAVE to scale down their Christmas with her, and simply explain that grandma celebrates differently, different things, and let them enjoy HER presents. Our kids have so much I doubt they will ask you where are YOUR presents, since grandma buys her own. You buy them presents EVERY DAY (I always tell that to my son when I buy him vitamins, shoes, toys and apple cider donuts at the market!!!!!) I am sure grandma has plenty of stories of and what she celebrated as a child, and family traditions, and you should cherish that. You should also try to make them participate to Hanukkah and the Jewish festivities that she celebrates. I am CLEARLY not religious, but I think (and reading all the posts here confirms it, for me) that we all end up following various religious traditions because they bring us together as families, as groups, as communities, so ... the more, the better (even if it means more wrapping, more cooking, more shopping, and more...toy storage space!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Argh!!!!)”

Share your different traditions together:

“In our house, our kids got gifts from Santa on Christmas Day, but, they also got gifts from other people Christmas Day also. I always told my children that Santa brought one gift per child and the rest were from whomever actually gave them. When my Jewish MIL was alive, her gifts were given on Chanukah, we never said they were from Santa, because, well, she was Jewish and did not believe in nor celebrate Christmas and we simply explained that to our kids when they were younger, again, they never had an issue with it. they also never had an issue with the idea that Santa brought them one gift each and the rest were from mom, dad, my mother, aunts, uncles, etc.. Not all gifts had to be from Santa for it to be fun for them, my younger child would always ask Santa for his extra special gift, I think that made it fun for him in that way. I, being a practicing Christian have told my children what I feel is the true meaning of Christmas, while my husband has expressed his viewpoint, again, this has not seemed to harm our kids and has taught them that all people believe different things and to respect that. And, by denying your MIL to give her gifts directly from her, in some ways, you are taking part of your child's culture away from him/her. I say let Grandma give her gifts when she wants and tell your child about her traditions, about Chanukah, etc. so he/she can grow and learn about all cultures, especially ones that are in their blood.”

Offer one gift from Santa and leave the rest to the family:

We have similar family dynamics (except for the mother/daughter relationship with MIL). We light the menorah for Chanukah with one gift, and at Christmas do the presents under the tree… Last year, our son was 3, and presents from friends and family came from 'that' person. and there were a few presents from Mama and Dada. There was only 1 gift under the tree from Santa, though, because I don't want THAT guy to get all the credit and glory. My husband and I want to be the hero's!! FWIW - My son is 4 this year and really digging the season - and he remembers NOTHING from last Christmas even though I thought he would. So, maybe, whatever happens this year won't matter for future years.

The Holidays are about spending time with the people you love:

“Santa brings presents on Christmas Eve which are usually unwrapped. There are also wrapped presents under the tree. These come from a variety of people including grandmas, cousins, mom, dad, Richard Nixon, The Grinch, and Barack Obama. I don't think there has be a contradiction between gifts from family members, current and former presidents (living or dead) and Santa. I also agree with whoever it was who pointed out that kids don't necessarily remember things. As it happens I think there are a lot of logical inconsistencies in the Santa Story. Like why is Santa bringing toys "made in China"? Right now the cover story is that they were made by Chinese elves. Our kids buy it because they want to believe. One day they will stop over looking these things and that's the time when they'll ask the question and we'll tell them the truth they already know.
If I were you, I'd ask your MIL to bring her gifts openly - maybe you could even let your son open them Christmas Eve. I think everyone takes joy in giving. It seems like it's more to do with that than Santa/Hanukkah, etc. And one thing that's sad but worth saying, is that our parents won't be around forever. I miss my father so much and I remember how much he loved Christmas. He was very sad that he wouldn't be here to see my son's grow up and I am so sorry they never got to see all the crazy, over the top things he did for us every year.  In the end it's the people who love us that make these occasions special.”

Traditions mean different things to different people:

“There's something about having children that really tests the mettle of our traditions. On that note, I'd like to share a similar but unrelated story of my own.
Last year, we were invited to my husband's cousin's house for Thanksgiving. They're our closest relatives geographically (they live in North Jersey), and have no long-term American experience. They belong to a community made up almost entirely of Sephardic Israelis and, I realize in retrospect, have probably never attended a Thanksgiving celebration that would approximate anything resembling the Thanksgiving celebrations I grew up with. At their Thanksgiving there was no turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, homemade rolls, stuffing, cranberry sauce or pie. In fact, there was no food at all that would signal we were actually celebrating Thanksgiving. I was more than disappointed. Secretly, I was pretty outraged and felt like I'd been cheated of one of my favorite holidays. But I had joined in someone else's celebration and tried to be gracious. We had a lot of fun eating Yemeni-Israeli and North African foods. But traditions I valued, like everyone telling what they're thankful for before eating, were entirely missing, too. Afterward, I discussed what had happened with my husband. I said that I never really thought *the Thanksgiving feast* was so important to me until it was missing; I really believed that what I valued was being able to get together with people I love, which is what we did when we went over to his cousin's house. So I was totally blown away by my own reaction and it took me a little time to come to terms with the idea that how we celebrate is important to me.
This year we had Thanksgiving at home. While I was preparing our feast and prepping my girls for the big event, coaching them on all the things for which they're thankful so we could share it around the table, I began to imagine having Assi's family over for our celebration. I started thinking of ways we could incorporate some of their traditions into our celebration, because as part of our family, their traditions constitute what could be our shared traditions if we are willing to reach across our cultural divide. In the future, I'd love my home to be a gathering spot for our extended family. It is my hope that when we do that my extended family won't feel alienated by or put out because of the way we celebrate. I'd like my children to get a sense that we come from a richly diverse background, and that we can navigate our differences with dignity and respect. I think the larger challenge that you're pondering arises because when we make families of our own we must find a fine balance where we feel respect for and a sense of continuity with our old traditions while we create new traditions for our new families. Your MIL isn't ready to wholeheartedly embrace Christmas, but she nevertheless wants to be a part of the tradition her son is creating with you and with her grandchildren. So, it's not really your tradition anymore, it's hers, too, even if she wants to disclaim it a little bit. It's totally understandable that you might see her as coming from a background with no particular Christmas tradition, and therefore feel a little unwilling to make compromises.  But be sure you know how you really feel about this issue before taking an unequivocal position.  If it's an unassailable part of your tradition that all gifts come from Santa, explain it carefully and completely. Understand that your explanation might not wash and may come off as arbitrary and hurtful, even if that's not what you intend. And also consider that the way you feel might change over time. It's my impression that nobody believes in Santa Claus past maybe first grade now, so perhaps in a couple of years when your children are older you can revisit this with a different perspective.”

Don't dilute the messages of each of the Holidays - but don't worry too much about Santa:

"I must say that I'm a little baffled by some of the responses in this thread (which I am usually not on PSP). If I've read everything right, Original Poster isn't trying to deny MIL anything. She is simply asking that Christmas get it's place on Christmas Eve and is happy for her MIL to give gifts expressly from herself on some other day. (And it makes sense that Original Poster as both the Christian and resident where it's being done would determine how Christmas is celebrated.) It seems to me that if someone posted that their Christian MIL wanted to give Christmas gifts on Chanukah, PSP responders would not be on board with that. We celebrated both Christmas and Chanukah in our house growing up and still do. My dad (Jewish) had the opposite reaction of MIL in the original post. He wanted Chanukah to be done on a different day and didn't want it to be confused with Christmas. And he doesn't like Chanukah presents going under the tree. I guess I don't understand why MIL is inviting herself over on Christmas Eve (which in and of itself shows a bit of lack of sensitivity depending on how it was done) and is insisting on doing this on Christmas (and even taking gifts back!) - it seems like she wants to dilute original poster's idea of Christmas.
All that being said, the one thing I'd say to Original Poster is that I wouldn't worry about your son not getting the idea of Santa or being confused. Trust me, there's no confusion! Santa is such a dominant image. And I'm quite sure that my parents didn't really play up Santa for us. (I can remember when I was about five, I swore that I saw Santa flying in the night sky, lit up with his sleigh and reindeer. All these years later, I still have the image of that night and that image of Santa in my head, so perhaps it was just a very vivid dream.) Nonetheless, I think there's no reason that your wishes as to how to celebrate your holiday on the holiday itself (especially when Chanukah is far enough removed this year) shouldn't be respected by your MIL. (And to say that Christmas and Christianity dominate in this society is not an offset.)"

Create new traditions:

“The question that comes up in my mind is why is the MIL giving Chanukah gifts?  isn't that a tradition adopted from the Christmas tradition?  (I was reading some stuff on jewfaq.org.)  Granted much of the Christmas traditions were appropriated from pagan ones. Somewhere in my tortured Catholic upbringing I was taught that we weren't really supposed to celebrate Jesus' birth (Christmas) but rather his alleged resurrection (Easter).  So it seems like Christmas was boosted up a notch to compete with the pagans and Chanukah was boosted up a notch to compete with the Christians. It's all very interesting and (I think) very telling that so many holidays are celebrated in ways very appropriate to their time of year. But no matter how you slice it or celebrate it, its a great time to savor old traditions and create some new ones.”

Responses to second member story:

Celebrate both separately, don’t combine the two:

“I'm a halfsie!  Christian Mom/Jewish dad - and grew up celebrating both Xmas and Hanukkah although my parents agreed to raise me Jewish for the most part and I went to Hebrew school 3x per week and had a Bat Mitzvah… But also went to church with my mom once in a while. I know it was a source of conflict between my parents (although they were also divorced when I was 10 so that doesn't help) and it resulted in slightly confused kids (my brother and I) although we now mostly identify as Jewish but also kind of anti-religion and I married a non-Jew. So now with Clementine, her Jewish grandparents on my side want to celebrate Hanukkah with her and my husband and the rest of grandparents want to celebrate Xmas. So we're doing both - I wouldn't want her to miss out on one side of the traditions!  Anyway... I think first off is a bigger conversation with your husband about how you plan approach religion/culture/religious identity with my daughter.  But I know for me - I liked celebrating both!  And now h my husband definitely wants to celebrate Xmas with her but we are going to be at my Jewish father's house in Florida over the holidays so I had to ask them if they would mind having us celebrate Xmas while we were there so that will be interesting. I think its fun to combine traditions, like wake up on Xmas morning to presents, but then go out for Chinese food! Personally I liked celebrating both instead of a "Chrismukkah" because then I feel a part of two cultures/family traditions instead of none in a way.  The more the merrier!”

From the Original Poster:

“It seems a good idea to celebrate both independently, and just get my husband on board. He won't love it, but I don't want her to miss a jolly Christmas, which will be based on spending time with family, food, and small gifts. My folks put themselves in debt every year to give us these huge Christmas', but I at least want to try and instill that material things are not what matter most. I have a feeling we won't be raising [my child] in either faith, but it's definitely something we need to discuss further. Thanks again for your responses- I find them super interesting! I love that my daughter is Irish/English/French/Swedish/Scottish/Russian-Jewish - otherwise American! ;)"

 

Interfaith Resources recommended by members:

 "Definitely check out MazelMoments. They list some interfaith resources. http://www.mazelmoments.com/rabbis."