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Facts & Arguments Essay

Holidays times two Add to ...

On the first night of Christmas, my true love will give to me a stuffed turkey with all the trimmings, a tree with lights and decorations, a platter heaped with potato latkes and the fifth candle of Hanukkah burning bright.

Three of my brothers will celebrate in a similar fashion with their families. Ours are interfaith households that in the great Canadian way attempt to share and understand the rituals of our different faiths.

My parents have always maintained that it can't be done. You can't celebrate two traditions in the same home without conflict and confusion for the children. Impossible.

But in my family we've always celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah. I'm Jewish and my husband is Christian, and our children are being raised with both traditions.

This year presents a December dilemma for many interfaith families, with the holidays overlapping this week.

We're not fans of fusing them into some mélange of Chrismukkah. I like it when the holidays don't fall at the same time so we can celebrate them distinctly. But they don't present the same conflict as Yom Kippur and Thanksgiving falling on the same day, one being a fast day, the other a feast day - this has happened in the past, and we've managed to accommodate both.

For us, Christmas and Hanukkah are both festive holidays that celebrate families coming together and lighting up the long, dark nights of winter.

During Hanukkah we light the candles each night, get together with family and friends, sing songs, play a serious game of dreidel, read our favourite stories and stuff ourselves on latkes with sour cream and applesauce. We don't put up elaborate decorations or give our children gifts, although they receive chocolate money - gelt - from their Jewish grandparents and great-aunt. We celebrate simply, the way I did when I was a kid. We don't try to compete with the flash of Christmas.

During Christmas we venture out to pick the perfect tree to bring home and decorate with cranberries, popcorn and homemade ornaments. Santa sneaks down our chimney during the night, then stuffs stockings with gifts that he leaves at the foot of the children's beds. We get together with family and friends, read our favourite stories and stuff ourselves with turkey and mashed potatoes.

We don't go to church on Christmas Eve, my husband's choice. And we don't put up lights outside, a Christmas tradition I feel uncomfortable with, perhaps because it seems to declare that we're a Christian household. It has nothing to do with saving energy. I love the fact that other people put up lights. The streets look so cheery.

But are my parents right? Is there conflict and confusion for our children?

When asked what they think of celebrating two sets of traditions, all three had the same response: You get double the holidays so you have more days off school; you get double the presents (which I find amusing because they don't); and you spend more time eating good food and getting together with your cousins.

The two younger kids, ages 11 and 16, couldn't think of anything negative about celebrating the two holidays. Our 19-year-old felt there wasn't enough of a spiritual dimension to either one. This is more a function of her parents not being very spiritual people. If we only celebrated one event, we would still do it the same way.

My friend Shelley's home is a Jewish household where they decorate and celebrate just the traditions of Hanukkah. They put up festive blue-and-white lights outside, colours traditionally associated with Judaism.

But every year her husband's family takes turns hosting Christmas dinner, and this year it's their turn. She won't be serving latkes, simply because mashed potatoes are easier to prepare for a crowd.

My brother David considers his a Jewish household, too. Yet his family celebrates Christmas, not as a religious holiday but as a secular North American festival with all the hoopla and trappings.

Theirs is a typical Hallmark family. They have a big decorated tree, presents and the formula turkey dinner.

Hanukkah will be celebrated as a distinct holiday. Their children don't receive Hanukkah gifts, but his family puts up decorative blue-and-white lights outside. David used to feel uneasy about that, but he has learned to compromise over time.

So while my parents have maintained that it's impossible to observe both events in one home, they also have another adage: "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Brenda Schwartz lives

in Ottawa.

 

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