Interfaith Families Face 'December Dilemma.' (How Families of Both Christian and Jewish Faiths Cope with Conflicts in Celebrating the holidays)(Brief Article)

USA TODAY, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Interfaith Families Face 'December Dilemma.' (How Families of Both Christian and Jewish Faiths Cope with Conflicts in Celebrating the holidays)(Brief Article)


Ornaments and twinkling tree lights, dreidels and gelt, Santa and the Macabees - the signs of the season are prominently displayed in the stores and on the streets. For an interfaith family, where one parent is Christian and the other Jewish, these symbols of Christmas and Chanukah are also signs of the so-called "December dilemma," notes John C. Hawxhurst, editor of Dovetail, a national interfaith newsletter.

Each year, the estimated 750,000 interfaith families in the U.S. face some tough questions, How can we balance our celebrations of Christmas and Chanukah, and at the same time remember the true significance of these two distinct and wonderful holidays? Do we wrap presents in Chanukah or Christmas paper? With which extended families will be celebrate? How do we explain all this to the children?

Under all of these December decisions runs a tension that can threaten to spoil what should be a joyful and renewing time of year. An interfaith family can not escape the flood of holiday images in stores and the media. Strong childhood memories can pull interfaith couples in opposite directions. Christians who grew up with warm memories of Christmas often can not understand why their Jewish spouses aren't as sentimental may feel as if they are betraying their heritage by having a decorated evergreen in their homes. Younger couples often can laugh off these tensions, but when children enter the picture, heartfelt issues no longer can be avoided. Youngsters whose questions may seem simple often get right to the core of the holiday matter. "Are you Jewish or Christian?" they ask with childishly innocent directness.

Many interfaith couples are choosing to face such questions head-on and celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas. They will light the candles on the menorah in their window and go to Christmas Eve services. Such families may find themselves exhausted come January, but they will feel a deep sense of pride and accomplishment from having shared their two rich heritages with their children. …

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