by Julia Becker Collins, Director of Community Engagement
When my husband and I were in our Introduction to Judaism class at Temple Beth Shalom, we had a class discussion about what is often called the “December Dilemma.” This is the coined phrase that surrounds the ‘conflict’ that appears to many interfaith families and couples at this time of year when one partner celebrates Chanukah and the other celebrates another faith-based December holiday (in our case, my husband celebrates Christmas). During this class discussion, I shared that we’d made the decision when we moved in together to have a Christmas tree in our home, and to celebrate both holidays equally. While this may not be right decision for every couple or every family, I don’t believe that there is a “right” decision when it comes to melding together two faith traditions.
At the break during class that day, one of the other couples came up to me to ask how I came to the decision to “allow” a Christmas tree in my house, and how the holidays really work for us. I said that for my husband’s family, Christmas is all about family and tradition, and part of that tradition was having a tree and decorations in our house. I said that I felt blessed to be asked to be a part of this tradition, and the yearly ritual of decorating the house for the holiday. Finally, I said that this made us happy and worked with our lives, but that I don’t have the “answer” as to how to best navigate this part of being in an interfaith couple. I really believe that every couple needs to figure out what works best for them, and if you choose to live a Jewish life and have a Jewish home, you need to put together the road map of what that will look like in your house.
Now, our small family is comprised of me, my husband, our fat cat, and our beta fish; and together we celebrate both holidays and are very happy (well, the cat might not be so happy when we try to dress her up…). For Chanukah, we light the menorah and say the prayers together each night, we eat latkes with apple sauce on the first night, and my family calls us so we can sing “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah!” in Yiddish together. For Christmas Day, we schlep to my in-laws with bags full of wrapped gifts for the kids and Secret Santa recipients. We eat a huge meal together and then the kids watch movies while the adults start in on the wine. These rituals of our December holidays, our December Dilemma, bring us closer together as a couple and as a family, and now I look forward to them all year-long.
At Mayyim Hayyim our mission is based around the ancient ritual of mikveh, and at the same time we work to reclaim and reinvent this same ritual for contemporary use, for ourselves, and for the community. Similarly, my family’s rituals around the December holidays are based in religious and family traditions, but have been reinvented for our contemporary use. Today, when I am asked what we do to celebrate the December holidays, I always tell people about both our Christmas and Chanukah rituals, since for us we give each holiday its own space and recognition, but the rituals for each intertwine through our lives.
Julia Becker Collins lives in Marlborough, MA with her husband, Devin, her (very) fat cat, Jersey, and beta fish, Frank. A vegetarian, she loves latkes of all kinds but shies away from the Christmas ham. Follow Julia on Twitter @JuliaRivka