Do Jewish People Have Christmas Trees?

It's that glorious time of year when some families light up their menorah, sing their prayers, and eat latkes while others choose fir trees, cover them with ornaments, and bake cookies.

Of course there is a third kind of family -- my kind of family -- who does everything and spends most of the season pretty confused about how to handle competing and not-at-all compatible belief systems.

Welcome to my yearly nightmare. Most of the year, my husband I are the happiest couple on the block, but every December, he wants a tree and I want a menorah and it all becomes a weird gray area reserved for the Interfaith among us. Did I mention I'm interfaith twice? My mother converted to marry my father, making me technically Jewish, but my experience with and memories of midnight mass and Christmas cookies are probably about four times greater than the average Jewish adult's.

So what do we do with all this confusion?

  • Celebrate both equally: This is a key point because, really, if we're all Santa is AWESOME while we spark up the tree and give the kids major gifts on December 25, Hanukkah is going to look like the crap holiday. Since Hanukkah usually gets its bum kicked anyway (sorry, it's true), make sure you give the kids some of the bigger gifts during those eight nights, too.
  • Hang out with other mixed-up families: Make sure your kids are not the only ones rocking both the Hanukkah bush and the Jesus menorah (just kidding on the last one). This video gives a good explanation of what it's like to be a Jewish person buying a tree, but for interfaith families, it's even more confusing. Just make sure your kids aren't alone. Most reform synagogues or more liberal churches will have seminars and workshops for families who celebrate all the holidays. Attend. There is less confusion in numbers.
  • Start your own traditions: This one is key. The night you decorate the tree, also play dreidel. If you do an advent calendar, incorporate it into your Hanukkah nights. It seems crazy and mixed up, but when you own it and explain it to your kids, they will get it. It's unique, not weird!
  • REALLY celebrate each: This one is hard, but important. It works better if the family member whose religion is represented gets that holiday. However, both parents should be present. I have many painful memories of my Jewish father grimacing while my mom's family sang "Silent Night." No one is expecting Jewish people to get baptized, but a smile won't kill you. Do it for the kids.
  • Don't worry about the neighbors: You say you're Jewish and then hang Christmas lights. You light the menorah, but call yourself Catholic. We know. It's confusing. Your neighbors may look at you funny and some may ask questions, but there is no one right way to do things as an interfaith couple.
  • Choose one: Ultimately, it's important that the kids know they're one religion or the other (sorry, folks). This is not crucial, but it does make it easier all year round. Celebrate the holidays, but make sure only one gets the house of worship treatment. Do Hanukkah at home and attend mass on Christmas if you choose Christian. Or go to temple for Hanukkah, but do Christmas at home. Trying to give both religious messages just confuses kids.

Unless you have a better solution, in which case, I'm all ears. How do you do both?

Happy Hanukkah tonight!


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