Making Traditions Our Own: Celebrating Winter Holidays as An Interfaith Family


By Lauren Gill, CJE Community Connector

Just before Christmas, my daughter, Madeleine, came to me to ask me what can only be described as a barrage of questions on all things Santa.

            “How does Santa get to all the houses in one night?”
            “How does Santa get in since we don’t have a chimney?
            “Does Santa like Gelt? I’m going to leave him some gelt.”

I was flustered. I fielded the questions I could. My basis of knowledge? Christmas movies. The questions just kept coming and my answers more ridiculous by the second. Finally, in frustration, I relented with “I don’t know! Ask your father!” She turned around, marched right out of the room on a mission for answers – answers her Catholic father surely had.

I grew up as a Conservative Jew. My grandparents were Orthodox, and my upbringing centered around the values, cultures, and traditions of the Jewish faith. Until I met my husband, our celebration of Christmas consisted of eating Chinese food and hitting the movie theatre. Rather than trees and wreaths and naughty lists; we lit candles, spun dreidels, sang songs, and fried latkes.

Marrying together my husband’s faith and mine in our first years of marriage was simple, yet certainly not seamless. In the beginning, our parents joked on how perfect it all was not to have to share holidays and take turns at the “in-laws” (for the exception of Thanksgiving). When our daughter was born, more serious discussions took place about how she would be raised and the challenges and joys that would inevitably arise as she came into awareness that she is, indeed, our little “cashew” (Catholic and Jewish).

As the years flew by, my lovely interfaith family began to make traditions of our own. While we are raising our daughter Jewish, we came to the important decision to celebrate her Christian holidays secularly. We have a Christmas tree. We believe in Santa. But my daughter and I do not focus on the religious element of the holiday – we support daddy in his faith and answer our daughter’s questions as she begins to navigate both worlds.

One of the challenges of celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas is the social reality that Christmas is everywhere. In every store, on every commercial, on every front lawn on our block – Christmas is a shiny beacon glinting in my 5-year old’s eye. The glitz and perceived glamour of Christmas puts our family in a position to try and make Chanukah just as enticing. In an effort not to let one holiday overshadow the other, we celebrate one holiday at a time. We do not set up for Christmas until Chanukah is over (occasionally the holidays overlap). We give our daughter one present per night as customary in our household and my husband stands right beside us as we light the candles and say the blessings. We’re working on his Hebrew, but his pronunciation certainly gives us a giggle. On a street full of lights, blow-ups, and decorations, we adorn our windowsill with a single LED menorah. Madeleine understands, even at her age, that it’s different from her other friends on the block, but we remind her we are proud of who we are and it is always ok to be different.

When Chanukah ends, we haul up the tree from the basement, string the lights, and place the ornaments on the tree. The star that goes on the very top of our tree is a Star of David my daughter made of popsicle sticks and rhinestones while in her 3s class at the JCC. We sing carols, we watch NORAD Santa Tracker, and, in pre-COVID times, visit with family and occasionally escort Daddy to church.            

Sometimes this prompts questions. Often those questions spark conversations. It is possible she does not quite understand everything that’s being explained to her, but we feel by allowing her to express her confusion and by us never declining to answer her questions, we are creating a culture of openness and understanding of her own heritage. In many ways, my daughter is lucky. No, not because she pretty much gets a steady stream of presents for the entire month of December, but because she is a part of two worlds – two religions with thousands of years of history and traditions behind it and family on both sides to love and support her.


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