Every December, my family sits down with our calendars for our most difficult holiday tradition: scheduling. Since we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, we have to decide when to decorate the tree, when to fry latkes, and what to do when the two holidays overlap. Christmas Day falls on the fourth night of Hanukkah this year – the two holidays most recently intersected in 2011 – and Hanukkah begins on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve about once every 15 years.
Once everyone’s calendars are synced, I go about the holiday season with deep gratitude that I get to appreciate not one but two religious traditions. My mom is Jewish and my dad is Lutheran, and my mixed-faith upbringing is not uncommon for Americans: One in five adults in the U.S. were raised in interfaith homes, and this number is growing with each generation. Interfaith marriage is especially common among American Jews, of whom more than one third are married to Christians. While marriage outside Judaism was once frowned upon within the Jewish community, I feel lucky that it was an option for my mom: She married the man she loved and was able to raise a child with appreciation for the Jewish faith, as well as exposure beyond it.
Growing up in a mixed-faith family is a masterclass in respecting the differences of the people you love most – a necessary skill for members of any family, regardless of religion. The perfect family is not made up of members with identical preferences and beliefs, it’s one in which each member welcomes difference, even celebrates it. My Lutheran dad loves my mom’s brisket and challah, and my Jewish mom is more excited than anyone about decorating our Christmas tree. Our ornaments represent the breadth of our religious and non-religious experience; we have a manger and a Star of David, but we also have apple pie, an accordion, and a croissant.
By celebrating both Jewish and Christian holidays all year long, my family also has more opportunities to gather the people we love to celebrate and eat. Cultural traditions like braiding challah, hunting for Easter eggs, or building a sukkah provide an access point for friends of any religion, or none at all, to join the festivities.
My mixed-faith upbringing has taught me that while the details may differ, tenets of kindness, generosity, and respect are central to many religions. There is only one way in which I believe that Judaism and Christianity are irreconcilable, and it’s a flammability issue: If you light a candle or oil menorah at the same time that you have a Christmas tree, just make sure to keep them in separate rooms!