Being part of an interfaith family can be tricky around the holidays. It can be difficult to balance both families’ faiths, especially when it comes to raising children, even if you have decided to raise your kids in one religion.
As we’ve discussed before, many of our readers are in interfaith marriages, many with a spouse who is Christian, or have extended family who are. In the case where you have decided to raise your kids Jewish, it doesn’t make the Christmas season any less confusing for them or your spouse.
A reader recently reached out for some holiday advice, asking us: “We’re raising our kids Jewish, and my husband is Christian. How do I explain Christmas to them so that they know it’s not something we celebrate as a family, but without alienating my husband and his family?”
So, we went to Facebook and got these responses from you, our readers:
1. “We celebrate both–menorah and Christmas Tree, gelt and gingerbread men, traditions and good food from both sides. Although, as the non-Jewish person in our marriage, I don’t have a strong religious belief in the biblical stories associated with Christmas, so that probably makes it easier for us. Just being together as a family for those weeks of the Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year holidays are what it’s all about. Maybe that would work for you too–celebrating the secular fun of Christmas, honoring the religious aspects of Hanukkah, and letting them know that each family celebrates in their own meaningful ways.” -K
2. “We keep Christmas secular, and it’s never been confusing to them. They know that some families believe differently than we do, and they accept and respect that without issue, enjoying both holidays and celebrations. It’s not an us versus them, but we’re more progressive than traditional.” -J
3. “It’s a complicated question, and I’d recommend bringing your husband into the conversation, particularly since you are worried about alienating him and his family. At the same time, think about what your goals are. Having an appreciation of other cultures and religions? Showing love for your family? Having an observant household? Fostering strong relationships between your children and grandparents?
At InterfaithFamily.com, we find many interfaith families raising Jewish kids celebrate Christmas in their home, with their in-laws or extended family as a secular, cultural holiday based in family tradition but without religious significance. Would that work in your family? You could explain that while you and the kids are Jewish, you help your in-laws or their dad celebrate because you love them.
Or, if you don’t plan on celebrating with your husband’s extended family, you could simply say that Christmas is not a Jewish holiday, so even though you love your in-laws very much, you don’t celebrate with them. You may want to seek out local resources (like InterfaithFamily) in your community, to help navigate these sometimes challenging topics and conversations.” -J
4. “My husband converted so we only celebrate Jewish holidays in our house. But we celebrate Christmas and Easter with his family. And invite his family over for Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, etc. We celebrate their holidays with them, and they celebrate our holidays with us.” -E
5. “I’m in an interfaith marriage–I’m Catholic and my husband is Jewish. I agreed that our children would be brought up Jewish. Although we always celebrated the secular traditions of Christmas and Easter, I’m always alone in celebrating their religious aspects. I’m alone at mass on Sundays, and fasting during Lent. It is lonely for me when everyone in church is sitting with their family and I am not, but a promise is a promise.
I’ve taught my daughter her prayers, celebrated her bat mitzvah, and stood under the chuppa at her wedding. I participated in my grandson’s bris, and enjoy celebrating the Jewish holidays with them. It can work and work well because of respect, but it isn’t always easy, but then neither is marriage.” -E
6. “We celebrate Christmas at my mother-in-law’s home. The kids get Christmas presents from that side of the family. On Hanukkah in our home, we light the menorah and give Hanukkah presents. We do not put up decorations, which has been a source of minor conflict throughout the years, but I refused early on. The kids have always known they are Jewish.” -A
7. “I’ve never made any judgment or definition of Jesus or God when explaining why my family is Christian and we’re Jewish. I say that Christianity is one path to God, but Judaism is ours. (My kids are under 10.) There is time for deep theological discussions later. For now, it’s about going in-depth about what we believe.
I’ve also explained the pagan religion aspects of Christmas, and that Christians liked them and use them to help explain their holidays–but with a neutral, history-based tone. We do spend Christmas with my family, because “it is a special day for them and we love them.” What you do in the home translates to how they see the world and their friends. My belief is that all families of any religion should be wrestling with these discussions, because it means we aren’t just resorting to “we’re right and they’re wrong” discussions. As someone who grew up Christian and had conversations about Judaism that I had to seriously question later, I know this is true.” -M
8. “I heard a great analogy once about comparing Christmas to other people’s birthdays. There’s nothing wrong with helping the ones you love celebrate their birthday. You can eat cake, play games, and have fun. But it’s not YOUR birthday. You won’t get any presents, you won’t decorate your home, and it won’t be your day. I read it in a book about converting to Judaism, and it really made so much sense to me.” -C
Do you have anymore tips for the December dilemma? Share them in the comments below.