Interfaith families: Celebrating the holidays

How four families celebrate the holidays when Mom and Dad practice two different religions.

Photo: Lisa van de Geyn.

Family #1: Lisa and Peter van de Geyn
“How come Bubby and Zaidy don’t have a Christmas tree?” my daughter Addyson, who was three at the time, asked last December.

I’d been wondering how long it would take for her to notice that only half of the family (her daddy’s side) waits for Santa Claus to make his jolly way down the chimney, and the other half stands around a bunch of candles while Zaidy (my father) recites a prayer.

Well before me (Jewish) and Peter (definitely not Jewish) tied the knot, I pondered what we’d tell our future children when they eventually asked about Mommy and Daddy’s di ffering beliefs and traditions. Not all interfaith families do it the same way, but the decision this meydl and her goy made early on was that we’d celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah in our home. And thus, our mishmash-hybrid holiday, a ffectionately dubbed “Chrismukkah,” was born.

Once December hits, I replace the autumn acorn and maple leaf decals that stick to our windows and kitchen cabinets with Santa, dreidels, candy canes and snowflakes. The singing snowman with a twig of holly in his hat (who belts out “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” when you press his little mitten) takes up residence in our front hall underneath the “Happy Hanukkah” banner that hangs in our entryway. A giant plush Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer settles into the corner beside our Christmas tree, a fter being schlepped upstairs from the box in the basement where he’s been hibernating with the Star of David wrapping paper for the past 12 months. We deck our halls, trim our tree, light our menorah and devour enough Christmas cookies and potato latkes to feed a workshop full of busy little elves.

Addyson (now four) and Peyton (two) get gelt (chocolate money) and advent calendars. They open presents on Christmas morning and during the eight days of Hanukkah. As they grow up, they’ll learn both the stories of the three wise men and the Maccabees. One day they’ll fight over who gets to light the first Hanukkah candle (as me and my sisters always did as kids) and who gets to put the topper on our tree. (Let’s be honest; it’s not a holiday in any religion unless there’s at least a little kvetching.) They’ll spend the holidays with both the turkey-eating van de Geyns, and the brisket-noshing Goldmans.

And, for as long as I can force them, they’ll participate in my personal favourite tradition – they’ll pose for our family’s yearly holiday card wearing whatever clever Chrismukkah T-shirt I can order online. (I’m still partial to last year’s purchase in the photo above: A menorah made with Rudolph’s antlers.)

But that’s just the way we roll in our house. We figured we’d expose our brood to everything we were taught and celebrated when we were growing up. And even though they’re still too young to understand that not every kid celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas – nor do they really get that Mommy’s Jewish and Daddy’s, well, not – we figure they’ll grow up getting the best of both worlds, and we’ll figure out the rest as we go along.

To be honest, that part is definitely going to take some time. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that celebrating Christmas is sometimes uncomfortable for me. Even though I’m obviously not super religious (see: married non-Jew), and my brand of Judaism is more of a cultural than sacred one, it’s still a bit alien that there’s a Christmas tree standing in my family room. I’m still not ready to cover the outside of my house in twinkling Christmas lights, nor can I bring myself to hang a big old wreath on my front door. But it’s not only bizarre for me. I know that lighting our menorah, and listening to my Dad’s blessing from the Torah, is foreign to Peter. The guy didn’t even know what a menorah was until he met me. (What a yutz.)

Family #2: Shari Kimel and Adam Alderdice
The Kimel-Alderdice family’s holiday festivities start the first weekend in December, when they put up their Christmas tree. When Hanukkah starts, they light the menorah. Since Shari’s Jewish and her husband, Adam, was raised Christian, the pair figured they’d embrace both holidays in their household.

“Before we had kids (Jeremy, eight, and Marissa, six) we agreed to teach our children that they’re both Jewish and Christian, and to feel lucky that they get to celebrate more holidays than most of their friends do – and of course get more presents!” Shari laughs. “My favourite decoration during the holidays is my Jewish Santa.” Alderice says she brings out the tubby white-bearded fellow (who looks just like St. Nick but dons a yarmulke and carries a menorah in one hand and a dreidel in the other) every year as a symbol of her family.

Family #3: Lindsey and Mike Bunin
Lindsey Bunin is Catholic and her husband, Mike, was raised Baha’i. “Now that we have our own little family,” she says, “Mike and I want to fill our holidays with traditions that our kids will love that reflect our diversi ty. My husband grew up celebrating a calendar of Baha’i holy days, with the gi ft-giving occasion being Ayyam-i-Ha, which usually takes place a month or so a fter Christmas. His family had their own traditions, like making homemade bagels for Ayyam-i-Ha,” she says.

While Ayyam-i-Ha isn’t commercialized the way Christmas is, Bunin marks Ayyam-i-Ha and Christmas equally in her home. “Since there aren’t Ayyam-i-Ha decorations, I’ve been slowly creating a collection of winter-themed pieces and DIY homemade variations, too.” And since she loves to bake, Bunin will take a page out of her Grammie’s book and will whip up a bunch of baked treats to stash in her freezer before Christmastime.

Family #4: Heather and Tim Lochner
In the Lochner household, Lucas, seven, and Aidan, five, celebrate Christmas with their father’s side of the family, and Hanukkah with their mother’s. While they put up a tree, light their menorah, hang a wreath (something that still makes mom, Heather, squirm) and dad, Tim, bedazzles their house with Christmas lights, the couple doesn’t go overboard at home. “We try to keep the holidays separate, explaining to the kids that Mom and Dad have di fferent religions,” Lochner says. “We have many friends in mixed marriages, and we’ve watched them choose one religion over another – or choose none at all. We believe our kids need to learn both – in equal measure – so they understand where they’ve come from.”

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