I know that when it comes to interfaith families and holidays, December is considered the most precarious month.
However, from my own experience — being a Soviet immigrant Jewish mom, married to an African American man – we find April’s Easter and Passover time to be much more stressful, since they periodically overlap, and we are faced with an Easter dinner at my in-laws when the only choice is macaroni and cheese or ham. At least on the occasions when Hanukah and Christmas do overlap, we have various pasta dishes that are okay for both holidays.
Since Hanukkah is a pretty minor Jewish holiday when it comes to religion, we celebrate it in an equally low-key way. Candles are lit, prayers are said, songs are sung, dreidels are spun, and gifts are received for all eight nights. Little gifts like an electric tooth-brush here, a lunchbox there, hair ribbons, an umbrella, Spiderman gloves — things I would have purchased for our kids anyway–just a little more special in the presentation.
We do Hanukah at home, sometimes with friends – both Jewish and not – in order to stress that festive occasions are a time for connecting with and reaching out to others. The exact same reason we go to our children’s grandparent’s house to celebrate Christmas. We focus on that every year. And, as far as our kids are concerned, we are there to help them do it.
The same way you go to someone’s house for a party when it is their birthday and not yours, you are there to make their special day even more special. The holidays should be no different. And yes, they do collect some of the “big presents” from that side of the family – electronic toys, Barbie dream-houses, fancy party clothes, etc. — things that Mommy is definitely not handing out for Hanukah.
Because we have a Jewish home, we make it a point not to travel over the winter holiday break, so that we can be around for Christmas with my husband’s family. He does things my way 364 days of the year — within reason – - the least we can do is allow him this.
The one year it was necessary for us to be away from home and with my Jewish parents over Christmas, I called ahead and asked them to set up a small Christmas tree, so that my husband would not feel completely deprived.
When we got to my parents’ house, it turned out they had gotten a six-footer and decked it all out, complete with boughs of holly. We thought “they are Soviet immigrants; what do they know fromholly?!” But they wanted to make sure their support was clear. This did not go unnoticed by my children. We all embraced and celebrated this gesture.
Which is why one year our Hanukkah pictures — lighting candles, spinning dreidels, reading the Hanukkah story – - have a Christmas tree twinkling brightly in the background.
My kids were happy and there was no question about what we celebrate or why we do what we do.
Alina Adams live with her husband and their three children in New York City. She is a New York Times bestselling author with over a dozen mysteries, romance novels and nonfiction titles in print and as enhanced electronic books. Her latest book is Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama’s Greatest Moments, the first ever Enhanced Electronic Book about daytime television. More at alinaadamsmedia.com.