The December Dilemma
December 25, 2020
By Kirstie Henry

“Two Holidays Shine Brighter than One.” That is the message on a holiday card I received from a colleague a couple of years ago.

For families of different faiths, navigating the holidays this time of year is called the “December Dilemma.”  It can be a struggle to observe both Hanukkah and Christmas in the same household. It is one thing to honor another’s holiday traditions by draping twinkly lights over the garage, exchanging gifts, or filling your belly with latkes and sufganiyot. For some individuals though, seemingly harmless traditions may cross the line into rituals that seem contrary to, or in direct conflict with our own deeply held religious beliefs.

For children, Hanukkah can seem underwhelming, as compared with the “in-your-faceness” of Christmas. Non-Jewish adults also may not relate with the spiritual texture of lighting the menorah, rendering the experience inauthentic. For those of us confronting the December Dilemma, it is important not to turn the December holidays into a competition or even a comparison.  They are very different holidays with very different meaning and just happen to fall around the same time each year.  There is no right or wrong approach to keeping things in perspective; through open and honest conversation, it is possible to achieve balance and to become an ambassador for acceptance and awareness within our families and our community.

In my home, we acknowledge Christmas, but we observe Hanukkah. We do not put up a tree or hang stockings, or go to a church service. We light the menorah and we exchange a few small gifts on some nights.  We eat latkes and we enjoy a high-stakes dreidel tournament that continues for the full eight days. (It’s intense!)  Although this year will be different, usually on Christmas Eve, my daughters get together for a sleepover and celebrate Christmas at their grandparents’ home. Even as they have grown up and moved away, they still honor this tradition to wake up on Christmas together. Then, I join them at their grandparents’ table for Christmas dinner the next night. Togetherness (and food!) is what it’s all about for us.

I am grateful for the way that my family has learned to embrace and learn about what makes our respective holidays so special.  When we open ourselves up to the goodness of it all, we find that two holidays really do shine brighter than one!

Kirstie Henry is Vice Chair of Belonging at the Center for Jewish Engagement and Learning and was a member of the Inclusion Planning Team. Professionally, Kirstie is Courtroom Deputy to Federal Judge John L. Sinatra, Jr. in the Western District of New York.

The December Dilemma - Jewish thought of the week graphic