Christmas for Jews – and no, this is not a post about Chinese Food

As I’ve written before, my girls are fascinated by Christmas. I don’t blame them – it’s sparkly, sweet and mysterious, and it’s practically everywhere, at least after the Halloween decorations come down. As part of an interfaith family, I used to stress out about this; you can read my post from last year about the time I found them “playing Christians.” Might they someday insist on honoring this part of their heritage? Would they be justified in that demand? These days, I don’t worry (about this) so much. The stronger their Jewish identity has become, and the more positive associations they have with our own traditions, the less I worry about exposing them to all of the glitz and finery of Christmas.

My husband’s parents, who are Catholic, invite us every year for dinner on Christmas eve. They make a traditional seafood stew for themselves and my husband, and salmon for me and the girls. Ella and Zoe get to ooh and ahh over the tree, eat Christmas cookies, and receive (more) presents. Last year, they asked if they could help decorate Grandma and Pip’s tree. We found a recipe for cinnamon dough, and worked carefully on a set of handmade ornaments to contribute. 
I always longed to participate in Christmas as a kid. But with no family or close family friends who were Christian, I was never invited. Which left me feeling left out of something that seemed amazing, and taboo. In a way, I realize that my kids are lucky to be part of an interfaith family. They get a lot of joy out of contributing to someone else’s celebration of Christmas, without envying the holiday or confusing it as their own.


Perhaps that’s why I was so taken with a new book, A Chanukah Noel, recently sent to me by Second Story Press. It’s a true story about a young girl who moves to France and, as the only Jew in her community, longs to participate in Christmas. Her family’s resolution to this dilemma evokes our own family’s, but adds an important lesson about tzedakah to boot. I highly recommend this book, and not just for interfaith families. 
Not totally convinced you’ll love the book too? Well, here’s your chance to win the book instead of buy it. Second Story Press has offered a copy to one lucky reader. I’ll be selecting a reader at random – in order to participate you simply need to leave a comment below, that tells us a little bit about either your relationship to Christmas as a child, or your own children’s feelings about the holiday. I’ll be choosing a winner next Sunday morning.
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posted October 24, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I’d love to read that, Amy.
My kids (like yours) have Christian grandparents, and we make a habit of spending Christmas at their house every year. It’s the whole shebang — tree, stockings, fancy meal the night before, etc. Their grandparents go to church for the nativity play, too, and I have decided to allow the girls to go with them, since their grandparents have on occasion come to synagogue with us (on the rare, rare occasions that we go).
My standard way of explaining it to the girls is that this isn’t our holiday, but it is their grandparents’ holiday, and aren’t we lucky to get to share it and enjoy it with them. I do wonder, though, what will happen when they’re grown — will they want to bring Christmas into their own homes (something I am adamantly against doing here)? Time will tell.

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posted October 24, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Growing up Jewish in the goyisha part of town in very suburban, NJ circa 1960’s-1970’s meant trying mightily to understand why we couldn’t at least celebrate our Festival of Lights with the types of outdoor decorations our Christmas-minded neighbors used. Instead, on those Christmas Eves which found us home (rather than on Collins Ave, Miami or later in Palm Beach) my father would light fires in all three fireplaces, the better to warn off a Santa who might be too tired to check the front door first for the mezzuzah, so that he shouldn’t be wasting his time on us. Repeating this anecdote years later, my Jew-by-choice friend gleefully accused us of trying to burn that big red guy once and for all in retribution for retail excesses in lieu of discount purchases. Never thought of it that way … but I now live very happily without a Chanukah Bush. My 9 yo daughter is fascinated by the forbidden fruit of other holidays — her favorite part of going to kindergarten after a Jewish preschool was that Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day would be added to her collection of “minor” holidays like Sukkot, Simhas Torah, Tu B’ishvat and Lag B’Omer.

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Your Name

posted October 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm

My husband is technically Jewish – has his maternal grandmother was German Jewish. But his grandma left her religion when she married, and her kids (my husband’s parents) were raised Catholic. He himself was raised Conservative Christian, which he left as soon as he could. We both have always felt a pull toward Judaism, and started exploring it a few years ago. What a beautiful religion and way of life! We are still growing, and learning, and I so appreciate your blog as a source of information and inspiration. For the last few years, we have celebrated Hanukkah at our home, and Christmas at Grandma’s. It keeps it a little separate, but still honors our family, who we love dearly, who celebrates Christmas. We need to honor their traditions if we want them to honor our new traditions. My children are young elementary age, and we try to show the beauty in all religions (attend Diwali festivals with friends, etc) but explain why we have chosen this path and why it means so much to us. I know it means so much to them too, as it’s seen in their eyes when we light the Hanukkah candles. It’s magical and special and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I know they are growing up knowing about the importance of family togetherness and traditions, in whatever form they take, and also understand that the overabundance of gifts is not what makes a holiday special.

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posted October 24, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Hi! My husband is Israeli, I converted before we got married and we try to balance his family, my family, and our own family traditions every year around the holidays. We decorate the house in a snow theme in order to sawfish my need to decorate for the holidays without crossing boundaries. I also feel very fortunate that our son, 2, and our second child (on the way), will experience both holidays and be welcomed by both traditions.
Thanks for sharing your stories, I love reading them!

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posted October 24, 2010 at 3:24 pm

My kiddo has been very, very curious, and we’re fortunate enough to have friends nearby with whom we can enjoy some (relatively secular) xmas traditions.
It’s hard at 6 to move away from concrete thinking, from equating holiday quality with presents rather than the smell of schmaltz and onions and windows steamed up by simmering chicken soup.

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andrea ginsberg

posted October 24, 2010 at 3:44 pm

i would love this book for my son. as a kid i celebrated christmas and hanukkah. as an adult with my own son i don’t celebrate christmas. i don’t think of jesus as my lord, so would feel strange teaching this to my son. we live in savannah, ga. and while there is a jewish community here it is much smaller than that of newton, ma. where i went to high school. he is the only jewish kid in his pre-school. he has an interest in christmas in the same way that he has an interest in what all the other kids are doing. i would love a more kid friendly explanation to why we don’t celebrate christmas.

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posted October 24, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Another book that is similar in bringing Christmas and Channukah together in a story of sharing and respecting traditions is The Tree of the Dancing Goats Particia Polacco. Though we started as an interfaith family, now that I’ve converted Christmas has less and less of a presence. But stories that help our kids (and the adults) bring traditions together rather than seeing it as an either or (from a society wide perspective) are very useful.

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Jennifer in MamaLand

posted October 24, 2010 at 5:41 pm

I’d love this book to share with my kids! (we can’t get PJ Library here, so you can all feel sorry for us…)
Growing up in an all-Jewish family, we were THAT island of Chanukah in our “goyish” Catholic/Greek Orthodox neighbourhood – kind of.
Secretly, we always had stockings, though not a tree, and Xmas gifts, though my parents tried to make the “Santa” presents not as great as the Chanukah ones.
Our wonderful stockings custom ended when I was around ten or eleven when my little sister – at least, this is how I remember it – asked my parents about Jesus bringing her presents. Well, that was it – and for a long time, I resented my sister for ruining the good thing we had going!

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posted October 24, 2010 at 6:16 pm

We, too, spend Christmas with my husband’s parents. But because my husband’s parents are divorced and remarried, every December we have two rounds of Christmas. Often we bring the menorah on the road with us and celebrate more nights of Channukah with my Christian in-laws than at home! Everyone is very gracious about this, and my husband’s stepmother in particular is always thrilled to have our religious celebration happen in her household.
The kids look forward to Christmas and while I’m glad they are getting exposure to other religious traditions, all the consumptive parts of Christmas make me feel kind of itchy. Especially when they eclipse the religious aspects of the holiday. So I am happy to attend Christmas Eve services with my father-in-law and stepmother-in-law so that the kids get exposed to the religious end of things.
One year at this service, my stepmother was introducing me to a congregant friend of hers. What she said has stuck with me for many years, as it shows that she fully understands and respects the arrangement my husband and I have made in raising our children. After introducing us all, she noted, “Liz and Ethan are Jewish.” Not said to single us out, but rather in recognition of our place within their Christian household: fully welcomed and accepted for who we are.

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posted October 24, 2010 at 6:16 pm

that’s a great story! i don’t think this book was picked up by pj, actually- but still sorry to hear you can’t participate.

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Mary Ellen

posted October 24, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I was raised Catholic, and I loved Christmas. What’s not to like? The scents, the music, the joy. I always felt a little sorry for my Jewish friends who were stuck with that little dreydel that they made out of clay. Fast forward and now I’m married to a Jewish man, raising three Jewish children, and identifying more and more with Judaism. I enjoy sharing the Hanukkah traditions with my family, and I’ve even learned some great songs!
I’m interest in this book because my mother-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, was raised in France. I grew up on stories of “Christmas around the World,” and I’m curious as to how Hanukkah traditions are shaped and influenced by the countries in which they are celebrated.

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Melissa Young

posted October 24, 2010 at 8:55 pm

We’ve both been raised in a christian home, but felt consistently dissatisfied with church and church life.We felt drawn to Israel and the Jewish peple for a long time but felt guilty if we “defected”. Then we discovered my husband’s jewish roots!!! Praise Hashem! My husband and I are currently pursuing conversion and celebrate Chrismukkah with the family. Both sides have agreed to not give presents but to buy a charity gift for a family in need such as a goat or chicken or vege garden for a family in Africa. Then there’s no pressure of the “Santa” thing either. Since we’ve moved to rural Australia we see a lot less of them thus freeing us up to pursue our Jewish identity and traditions. we even got to visit Israel last year for my 40th! The family still don’t understand but we pray one day they will.

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posted October 24, 2010 at 9:37 pm

We too are an interfaith family of sorts since my husband converted. Froggy loves to help Grandma and Grandpa celebrate their holiday and see the lights and festivities and play with her cousins.
I had a dear friend growing up who was a Hispanic Catholic – which means I learned much later that lots of the holiday traditions are different from other Catholics. My sister and I joined their family several times for the midnight Christmas Eve celebration. It was a beautiful night of music and pageantry. And we did not even have the present aspect.

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posted October 24, 2010 at 10:12 pm

i’d love to see this. i’ve always wondered what life would be like if we celebrated christmas….simpler, perhaps? very different.

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Ramah Rosenquist

posted October 24, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I converted to Judaism about five years ago and now have a five year old child who I’m raising as Jewish. My parents enjoy sharing Hanukkah with my son and I. And we enjoy sharing Christmas with them. I agree with the statement about building a strong Jewish identity, which I do every day…..and Christmas is just one day in the big picture.

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Rachel Solomin

posted October 24, 2010 at 11:33 pm

I’m a rabbi who works in synagogue supplemental schools. Like my students, I grew up frequently feeling marginalized as the only Jew (or only practicing Jew) in my public school classes, so the premise of the book really speaks to me. Also, a large number of my students come from interfaith families like yours (both with a parent who converted and with a parent who has chosen not to) and are challenged to integrate their family’s Christmas traditions into their lives in a way that doesn’t betray their Jewishness. I’m really interested to see this book!

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posted October 26, 2010 at 10:53 am

Our family enjoys ‘The Trees of the Dancing Goats’, which shows support of the celebration of another faith.

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posted October 26, 2010 at 11:29 am

i have three children and five grandchildren. we celebrate both holidays and have never had a problem with this. we respect one another’s beliefs. i was never very religious but aleways proud to be Jewish. my grandchildren and they are truly grand have taken me to temple, which i truly appreciated. i would like to share this book with my family and future family, to know their jewishness.

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posted October 26, 2010 at 11:36 am

My husband and I were both raised in Catholic homes. We later drifted to other churches, and met on-line. We both felt a pull toward Judaism, and started exploring it 10 years ago…hence the reason for our going to Messianic/Judaism. We were married under the huppa in our congregation and went to Israel for our honeymoon — and plan to return there next year. Our parents came to our wedding, and they have reluctantly accepted this change in our lives. A cousin recently found out that our maternal grandmother was a Polish Jew. However, my grandmother left her religion when she married, and my mom and her sisters were raised Catholic. My mother does not want to hear that, so we are slowly exploring what our Jewish heritage was without her help or knowledge, and are hoping to find any relatives that might be alive in Poland. In the meantime, we are both learning. We celebrate Hanukkah at our home and with family who live near us. We honor our parents by sending them Christmas gifts, as well as sending gifts to our grandchildren that are raised in Christian homes, albiet smaller, more meaningful gifts. When the grandkids come here to visit for the holidays, we play the dreydel game, make cookies and light the Hanukkah candles. I would love to give this book to our granddaughter that lives nearby, as this might help her to understand the differences in what we do during that time of the year. Thank you for your blog…it makes me smile, knowing that I am not the only one dealing with parents, differences in religious beliefs, etc. and so appreciate it as a source of information and inspiration. Keep on writing!!! :)

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posted October 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I grew up with an orthodox Jewish mother and a nonpracticing catholic father – don’t ask. At services I was thrust behind a curtain every Saturday morning with no explanation. If I asked questions, I was told tersely that as a “woman” I didn’t need to know. My grandmother encouraged me to keep asking.
I married a bagels-and-lox Jew, had a son, and became active in a reform temple without my husband who with his family, ridiculed my attempts to raise my son, and later my daughter, as Jews. My son left Judaism behind after his Bar Mitzvah and at 38 I doubt he will ever return.
My daughter had a son, and she and her new husband are raising her son without religion, though they “let” me take him to Friday night services once or twice a month. My son-in-law claims to be Jewish. I doubt it. My daughter wears a star and says that’s as Jewish as she wants to be any more. She and her husband have a huge Xmas tree every year and take my grandson to his stepfather’s family for Xmas dinner. The boy’s father takes him to Sunday School at a holy roller church on alternate weekends per visitation agreement, but he doesn’t object to my taking him to shul and has not had him baptized. My grandson is now 6 and enjoys lighting his own Shabbat candles at my house, loves to come to services, and wants to attend “the Jewish Sunday School”. My daughter and her husband have vetoed that as a waste of needed money. He cried when his friends were consecrated last month prior to entering Sunday School this year, but even that didn’t move my daughter, who was once joyously observant herself. I am reluctantly resigned to my grandson eventually becoming Christian like his father, stepmother and half-sister, and knowing no real Judaism except for the precious little I can teach him.
Not all interfaith marriages are good for the interfaith kids.

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posted October 26, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I celebrated Christmas as a young child because I was raised in family that did. As an adolescent, I grew to dislike the holiday, with its consumerism and shallow phrases. As a young man, I married out of Christmas, and I feel fortunate for that gift. Now I celebrate holidays that feel more genuine to me, with no commercialism and no symbols stolen from others.

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posted October 27, 2010 at 10:04 am

I am Catholic, but my two closest friends and my significant other are all Jewish–with varying degrees of observance (from fairly strict Sabbath observance to one friend calling me to ask “What does this {Jewish}holiday mean?”) I have always been fascinated with the Jewish faith–my first exposure was as a young child with neighbors who were Sabbath observers and my mom would try to keep my 9 siblings and I as respectful as possible on the Sabbath (not always successfully, but the neighbors were very understanding!). Then in 2nd grade I read the book “All of A Kind Family” and became even more enthralled. As an adult I do a lot of reading on Torah subjects, etc. (after all, this is the roots of my faith also!). For the holidays,my children and I have always been invited to Chanukkah by my best friend–she always makes sure all the children have an opportunity to light a candle–and then of course we prepare the latkes together! Ummm. For Christmas our families get together for Christmas Eve with my whole extended family (and it is a large one at that!) If it happens to fall during Chanukkah my friend brings along her candles and menorah! Then, since she is married to an Hispanic man the families get together again for Jan. 6th–“Little Christmas” which is traditionally celebrated in most Spanish cultures. Our children are mostly grown now – between the ages of 17 and 28 – but they all still look forward to all these celebrations. This year we welcome my grandson – the first of the next generation – and are looking forward to introducing him to all the wonders of all these beautiful traditions. I would love to win the book, but I am sure I will buy it even if I don’t win it as I also have an extensive children’s book collection for the holidays and am always looking for new additions to commemorate these great holidays.

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posted October 27, 2010 at 11:47 am

My grandma was Jewish and married a Catholic. My Mom married a Catholic. When I was born — I spent a lot of time with my grandma that made a point to tell me about her Jewish roots. There was a menorah for her and a christmas tree for grandpa. This book would be a special addition to my collection.

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Matt Zvi

posted October 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm

We’re interfaith married (although I hate the term interfaith, as it implies my wife has a faith…) but she is in the process of converting. Her parents still celebrate a secular Christmas. Our plan is to have our children celebrate Christmas with their grandparents (only at their house) and have them over to celebrate Chanukkah with us.
Honestly, it wasn’t about my child’s relationship to Christmas as much as it was that my wife is an only child and this will be the first grandchild, and I know her parents will want any and every holiday they can get their hands on to “celebrate” their grandchild.

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posted October 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

the idea, or the value, that Xmas is important is only due to a person allowing the holiday be important.
Its a choice that it not be important, or be important, or to what degree it is important.
In otherwords, Xmas doesnt have to be a big deal just because society puts emphasis on it, thus making it a big deal.
When it comes down to it, its 2 days (Xmas even and Xmas) and then its over,,,, no matter how much cash is spent,,,,, or for most people, how much in debt they’ve become.
May I ask the readership not view these points as condescending so much, and instead ask a hard question “what real value is available via Xmas?”
I might advice the Jewish community which places an intangible interest or value on Xmas to put their interests & values into Judaism and you will find you’ll get much more mileage and satisfaction.
You can get a weekly Torah commentary online, or Twirskey wrote a book “the Living Torah” that gives a weekly commentary. gives a very nice commentary every Friday and a Weeknight commentary on Monday or Wednesday.

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posted October 28, 2010 at 9:38 pm

My adult life has been filled with many different faiths intertwined among siblings and their significant relationships. More importantly in this conversation should be mine. I was born Jewish and planned to be comfortable this way forever. I married a Lutheran young man my first marriage. We agreed to marry by a Rabbi since the clergy would not marry us twice to cover each faith. (note: I had 1 of the 2 that would marry this way in 1969.) Our love was strong between us. We thought we could bring up our children with both faith understandings successfully. Sadly, we stopped attending services after kids were in elementary school. I thanked God that Judaism was taught in our home. Whatever $ we could spend was split over both gift holidays. We had many holidays in our home and family homes. Services and Church on the holidays. Sometimes conflict, mostly fun and good memories built. I think I was the only one that practiced traditions for everyone’s holiday preparation, fasts, etc.-often considered crazy!
My older children were in college when I left home with my youngest just 7, after 25 yrs of marriage. I remarried- this man was also Lutheran. We went to both Synogogue and Church as a family including his 3 children and my youngest. I learned more about my faith than ever before. We decided to give families in need gifts and cut our own down to a minimum. The biggest surprise of all– my gentile husband sang Kol Nidre for our congregation for 2 yrs. I sang in the Church choir for years. My husband was the choir director.
There is a lot of pressure in society to do everything a certain way. This will never change. My philosophy is to do what I can do best to teach my children right and wrong-by action along with my words. I was not always perfect- don’t think any of us can be perfect.
Result: oldest girl- Christian marriage, son-just married Christian, broke the glass though!, youngest daughter now 23 (the one who practiced (bold underlined) both Jewish and Christian in 2 houses of worship, mission work, etc.- Jewish. Regardless of how we turned out trying to get to our God of our understanding, I am proud of who my children are today. I am proud to share my beliefs and continue to learn as I share with all children. I love to read to children and especially my grandchildren! What blessings I have today. I will try to pass on our traditions. Happy Holy days! Rhonda :)

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posted October 29, 2010 at 6:08 am

I need this book. I actually live in France with my 2 kids. I was raised Catholic, but not religious, and now live in France with a Jewish man. We have made a lot of changes, including keeping Kosher, celebrating most holidays (not just the biggies), and are basically in the process of converting. The kids (teenagers), sometimes have a hard time letting go of Christmas (something we celebrated before my Jewish boyfriend). I am not sure how to respond to them when they want a Christmas tree. Our home is now a Jewish home, even though it is not my family’s history. Maybe this book will help. Thank you for the opportunity.

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posted November 1, 2010 at 10:05 am

I was raised cathloc by a grandmother whose father was jewish and a grandfather who was Jewish,I went to cathloc school and came home to traditions of both faiths. My 24 year old daughter is observant of Judaism and my Son who just had a child in june practices catholocism. I would like my son to be able to raise my grandson to make a decision of his own as I did with my children. We are not wealthy people, however if you do not choose us, would you please send me information as to where to obtain a copy.

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