I married a woman from a different religious background than my own, which meant our ceremony was Unitarian. I was raised Jewish, she was raised Baptist, though neither of us had a particularly strong religious family. When we were married, we took that common route of celebrating all possible holidays, whether Jewish or Christian. I mean, why not celebrate as many events as possible?
Since it always fell on very different days, we also opted at the end of the year to celebrate Christmas and Hannukah, along with winter solstice many years. While any Jew can tell you that Hannukah isnt’ really that big a deal in the Jewish faith, Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, is definitely a big deal, even if it’s not actually when scholars think he was born. For the kids, it was even better because we had two gift-giving holidays in December. What’s not to like about that?
Once we separated and then divorced, it was easier to keep this separation, and so the children have celebrated a low-key Hannukah with me and a fairly traditional American Christmas Eve and Christmas with their Mom. Our celebration always featured lighting the candles of the menorah and us enjoying oily latkes that I’d cook up and serve with apple sauce and sour cream. No donuts, tho!
This year is a bit weird in that regard, however, because Hannukah starts at sunset on December 24th. Yes, there’s an inherent conflict between celebrating the two holidays since they collide. Hannukah has been close to Christmas, but never quite this close in my memory.
And so it created a challenge for us: who got the kids for which holiday celebrations. The goal was compromise, but as usual that ended up being interpreted as me having to agree to what my ex wanted to do, and so my kids will be with me for pre-Hannukah day (the 24th), we’ll actually light the first candle of the menorah early afternoon, eat our festive meal and they’ll traipse off into the evening to celebrate Christmas Eve and then Christmas with their Mom.
If we both celebrated Christmas, this would have been even more difficult, because I would expect that generally splits with the kids at one house for Christmas eve and the other for Christmas day. Sort of what we’ve got anyway. But it’s still disappointing that my kids won’t be with me when Hannukah actually begins — at sunset — but will already be pulled into their Christmas activities. Like two completely different galaxies. Like another reminder, all these years later, of the difficulty of parenting when you have two households and two different religious beliefs.
Next year, fortunately, Hannukah begins at sunset on December 12th and that’ll be much easier to manage.