When Holidays Collide: How to Survive December in an Interfaith Family

Karen Green December 4, 2019
Hanukkah Prep - SavvyMom

Parties. Concerts. Get-togethers. Appointments. Shopping. Sleep. Wrap. Repeat.

There’s no getting around it—December is a busy month for families, regardless of how old your children are or what holiday you celebrate. There’s a lot to cram into a short amount of time as well as the added pressure of ensuring that time is at least somewhat enjoyable.

And for families like mine, which celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, this December is going to be a doozy.

When my kids tell others that they celebrate “Christmukkah,” what they mean is that they have the lovely experience of coming from an interfaith family that honours the cultural backgrounds of both of their parents during the holidays that land in the winter months. Oh, and that they have two opportunities to open presents.

Separate opportunities, usually weeks apart, with completely separate traditions and time in between to catch my breath.

In 2018, Hanukkah ended on December 10. Plenty of time to put away the menorah, take out the Christmas tree and transition smoothly, giving each holiday their due attention.

But this year, as the portmanteau suggests, thanks to a trick of the ancient Hebrew calendar that is based on lunar cycles and the Common Era Roman calendar that is based on solar cycles, Hanukkah and Christmas truly do collide.

And I’m hosting the big dinner on December 25.

The first night of Hanukkah is December 21, so by the time I gather 28 people at my table for Christmas dinner, the fifth candle will be ready to be lit on the menorah. Yes, we’ll have had four nights of Hanukkah to celebrate already, but they will also have been meshed with the traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas morning celebrations we enjoy with my husband’s family. I’d like to find a way to celebrate both without sacrificing or cannibalizing the parts that we find most important in either one.

And I think I have.

As with most events, the key here will be that I truly do love hosting the holidays, making my home a warm centre of gathering and carrying on the traditions of both sides of our family—but most importantly, carrying on the traditions that we have created for our foursome. I’m going in to the holidays with the anticipation that I can take what we have created and apply it throughout the season.

This year, I’m ready for a true Christmukkah experience, and if you celebrate more than one of the winter holidays, these tips could also help you thrive, and not just survive, during the month of December.


The best advice I received when I got married many moons ago, was that when it came to spending time with family, it was better to multiply than to divide.

So this year, the math will be simple: come one, come all. We will light the menorah and trim the tree. There will be sweet wine and eggnog. And if you invite us somewhere, we will try to make it. But if we can’t, it’s not personal.


Another example of multiplication and not division. But lest things go overboard, I’ll break up the fun to manage it without going bonkers.

Outings: Hanukkah is a night-time holiday, so with a few minor adjustments, we’ll be able to accommodate our favourite Christmas outings without much interruption to the eight crazy nights, including skating, cookie baking with grandparents and a matinee to see our local production of The Nutcracker. For evening outings like light viewing and night markets, we’ll just wait until the candles have burned down in the menorah. Pro tip: buy the short candles.

Gifts: Since Hanukkah and Christmas usually land within a month of each other, we had already instilled a fairly strict policy of limited gifts for both holidays. There definitely won’t be eight continuous nights of presents this year. But we’re not here to take the wind out of anybody’s sails, including the relatives that are so generous to our children. We just try to balance the commercialization of the holidays by gifting our kids experiences, not stuff. They’ll remember a trip to the theatre or the museum or a family vacation long after they have abandoned whatever the “must-have” toy is this season.

Traditions: Christmas day will bring the biggest opportunity for blending traditions in an overt way, but it should work out fine. As the sun goes down, we’ll light our menorah, say the prayers, and sing the songs we do each night during Hanukkah. My husband’s family will be invited to join us, just as I am invited to join them as they say grace before the meal. Each place setting will have the de rigueur Christmas cracker on it—as well as a dreidel! And the kids’ table will have a Hanukkah tablecloth adorning it. The Christmas tree will be up and in lieu of an angel, will be topped by the Rabbi in a Leafs’ jersey that my mother knit for us several years ago.


To me, food is one of the most significant ways of building and nurturing traditions, so I’ve been looking for meaningful ways to incorporate the holidays together on a plate. My contribution to Christmas Eve hors d’oeuvres will be latkes (potato pancakes) instead of my usual gourgieres; I’ll serve a lukshon kugel (noodle pudding) as a side on Christmas dinner and of course, there will be sufganiyot (jelly donuts) out with dessert. And I doubt that anybody at the kids’ table will say no thank you to a bag of chocolate Hanukkah gelt (coins) before we gather to exchange gifts.

Feeling like you’ll be able to handle the overlap of the holidays like a pro now?

Good. Enjoy that feeling. Because the Easter Bunny and the 10 plagues of Passover are landing on your doorstep over the same weekend this year as well. Oy vey. And happy holidays.


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