Our aim is not to mix or blend, but to honor and respect both religions.
We’re an interfaith family celebrating both family religions—in our case, Judaism and Christianity. That makes me one of the 25% of all intermarried Jewish parents raising kids “partly Jewish and partly something else,” according to Pew Research. In our case, that means we stress religious literacy for our children, and explain the historical meanings of both HanukkahThe holiday which celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its conquest by the Syrians in 165 BCE. The holiday is celebrated by lighting candles in a hanukiyah oon each of eight nights. Other customs include the eating of fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts), playing dreidl (a gambling game with a spinning top), and, in present day America, gift giving. and Christmas. Rather than instructing them that one set of beliefs or the other is right or wrong, we aim to ensure that they have a deeper understanding of their family heritage than they would getA writ of divorce. Traditionally, only a man can grant his wife a get. Liberal Jews have amended this tradition, making divorce more egalitarian. from osmosis and exposure to secular celebrations of the December holidays.
So, while some secular interfaith families do integrate the holidays, hanging tinsel on the hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorahThe seeven-branched menorah stood in the Temple, and many present-day synagogues feature the menorah. Titus' arch depicts the Romans' sacking of the Temple and theft of the menorah. A nine-branched menorah called a Hanukkiyah is lit on Hanukkah to symbolize the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.) and setting out latkes for Santa, our family does not. We give Hanukkah its own place and time, and specific stories, so that our children understand it in historical context. And we strive to return Christmas to all of its religious origins (including the Pagan context of the tree and mistletoe, and the birth of a Jewish baby who would eventually become the focus of Christianity).
So, even though we provide interfaith education to our interfaith children, both at home and in an interfaith families community, we do not integrate the two religions. Our aim is not to mix or blend, but to honor and respect both religions. Of course, the common theme of light in the darkness at a time near the winter solstice is a theme shared by Hanukkah, Christmas, the Pagan tradition of Yule, and the celebration of Diwali by many Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. So Jewish/Christian children, and Jewish/Hindu children, and Jewish/Pagan children, are bound to get the message that there are universal ideas, such as comfort at the darkest time of year, inspiring the evolution of religious rituals.
Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available from Beacon Press. She writes for onbeingboth.com, Huffington Post Religion, and the Jewish Daily Forward.