Growing up, I didn't get a Jewish education, but we celebrated the Jewish holidays. My mom had converted from Catholicism and Protestantism to Judaism for my father and then years later when I met my ex-husband, I started to celebrate the Christian holidays with him as well as the Jewish ones. Back in my parents' day, this would have been considered unusual to raise children with more than one religion, but nowadays it's more common. In fact in 2013, the Pew Research Center found that 81 percent of non-Christians in the United States celebrate Christmas. Perhaps the holiday has become more American than religious for those of us raised in this country who comes from non-Christian backgrounds? I'm not sure, but either way the other day when I took my daughter to Barnes & Noble, I found a book just right for her: a book on celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas! It was such a joy to find. So many people find it confusing when I tell them we celebrate all the holidays, but for us this is a family norm and finding literature that embraces our way of living is a wonderful feeling.
When you're celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas, the holidays can be a ton of fun but also expensive and stressful! Here are a few tips to keep yourself from shouting "Oy vey!" when you're a mom living an interfaith (Christian and Jewish) lifestyle.
Pick Two Big Gifts and Make the Rest Small
Buying gifts for eight days plus Christmas, is a lot of financial strain if you don't do it right, especially for single moms making the holidays come to life on their own. For me, it was important that while Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, for Hanukkah to be as special and fun as Christmas. I pick two big gifts — one for the first night of Hanukkah and one for Christmas, and make the rest of the gifts on the small side to completely cheap (think dollar-store items). There's a running joke that you got the CD one night of Hanukkah and the CD case the other — you don't have to go that cheap, but you have to stretch your dollar out. Shop at the dollar store or "under 5 bucks" store, especially for little kids. They don't care how much the gift cost or what brand it is. They're just happy they got something.
Choose One Huge Celebration Over the Other
You can do a huge Christmas/Hanukkah party if you like, or you can decide to host the holidays at your home for one holiday in particular, and go somewhere else for the other holiday. For me, I typically do a big Hanukkah party and go somewhere else for Christmas or have a small gathering at my house for Christmas Eve. Choosing to either have a mixed-religious celebration or picking one holiday to "go large" with helps cut down on expenses. Hosting holidays at your home is not cheap. Be smart.
Twice the Gifts, Twice the Clutter
Let's be real: double the holidays, double the clutter — maybe. Make sure to donate and give away toys ahead of time. It will save you a lot of aggravation and space!
Secret Santa — Secret Kanta It!
My mom called the Jewish Santa "Kanta." If you have large extended family that you all swap with, cut down on the funds by suggesting a Secret Santa or Kanta swap so you're buying for one person instead of a billion. Another budget move I made upon getting a divorce was buying only the little members of my extended family holiday presents and telling the older kids I would have to stick to getting them birthday gifts only. Does it stink? Sure, but older kids are capable of understanding when money is tight whereas younger children are not.
I like my decorations separate, especially when Hanukkah doesn't coincide with Christmas, but when it does, I try to mix it up a bit. Hanukkah placements and window clings, with a wreath on the door and indoor lights by the window. Is it colorful? Sure, but the holidays aren't meant to be drab! Some people have Jewish-themed-Christmas ornaments on their tree and why not, if that's your bag of tricks?
Give Them an Experience
Forget the gifts and instead, hold a family breakfast or outing to celebrate being together rather than shelling out dough on gifts. Family, friends, and love are the reason for the season not Shopkins, iPads, and video games.
Pick One Holiday to Exchange
Choose one holiday to exchange gifts with family or if children want a pricey present, explain that they will only get one pricey the gift and the other holiday gifts can be composed of $15 and under presents or instead an experience.
Holiday Photos and Attire
Some interfaith families choose to shoot photos in neutral attire or stick to a holiday red, sending holiday cards out with general PC terms like "happy holidays." Growing up, there were never any Jewish-themed clothing items, but nowadays there are so for the holidays I got one photo in a red Christmas dress and the other a handmade dress from Etsy in blue with Star of David all over it for Hanukkah. If you're like me and you like to relish each holiday for its uniqueness, getting into themed gear is a lot of fun and we simply say "happy holidays" on our cards since most of my friends don't celebrate Hanukkah.
I take the holidays as a great time to read about the celebrations with my daughter, especially for Hanukkah simply because she has less social context for the Jewish traditions. Take this time to really explain the unique differences (and similarities!) between the two religions in a developmentally appropriate way for your child. It's a great time to build teachable moments.
For all of you lighting up the menorah and Christmas tree this year, have a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah!