Jewish Families & Christmas

Parent Q&A

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  • I’d love for our family to pick out a real Christmas tree each year, bring it home, decorate it with the littles, and just have the magic of the scene, but my husband is afraid it will hurt his Orthodox Jewish parents. My family isn’t religious and I don’t believe in God (and neither does my husband), so the holidays for us are simply a time of family togetherness and enjoying special scenes around town. Each year we throw a fun Christma-Hannu-Kwanzika party- a mish mash of music food and white elephant fun. There’s no religious element. One year we did pick out and decorate a tree with lights and tons of blue and silver Stars of David. We also had tons of snowflakes and menorahs and holiday lights in and outside the house. I love decorating for the seasons and especially love the pretty lights of this time of year. Anyway, my in-laws happened to see our tree in the background on Skype. Apparently my mother-in-law cried. My husband says that for them, a tree is a big sign of assimilation. Like, you really are not like where and what you came from. I don’t want to hurt them, yet I’m still yearning for a tree. Anyone relate?

    I can relate. My family is culturally Christian but not at all religious, my husband's family is Muslim, and we are both atheists. Our kids are happy Bay Area children with some exposure to most flavors of religious beliefs and happily partake in traditions of all sorts. For me, decorating a Christmas tree and setting out stockings is one of my favorite traditions of the year, and my husband loves it too. His mother, however, also learned of our tree and was devastated. I think she has a hard time understanding the idea of secular celebration. My husband tried to explain that there's no religion in Christmas for us, that it's just about family and service, but she doesn't understand. We also have a Star of David on our tree (something my daughter proudly made at school one day) and it just feels easy and natural to us. I will say that my MIL originally told us that our children would be confused and without an identity, and I think she's softened on that position over the years as she's seen them just feel so comfortable in this multicultural community we live in. So I offer empathy if not advice!

    Jews don't have Christmas trees.  Period.  I would find Jewish symbols on a Christmas tree deeply offensive.  Christmas is a Christian holiday.  I respect that and love helping my friends celebrate THEIR holiday.  I often have non-Jewish friends come to my house to celebrate Jewish holidays.  I have often trimmed trees with friends at their homes.  But to deny that Christmas is Christian (which is what you suggest) is just to make Christianity the default, the norm, the expectation, the absolute.  

    Yes, it can be hard for the Jewish kid who sees pretty trees at  friends' houses. They will get over it.  Indeed, it is an important part of growing up and learning to respect  differences rather than trying to suppress them.  Jewish kids who grow up without trees know what it is like to not be part of the dominant culture; they will have more understanding of those in similar or analogous situations.  That is a great lesson.  You can live without a tree.

    I can relate, and I know this is hard.  In my case I grew up in a Catholic family and all of my favorite childhood memories revolve around Christmas and the tree.  But my husband is Jewish and for him, having a tree in the house symbolizes betraying his identity in a complicated way that is hard to articulate but very real.  This was a big issue for us early in our marriage but ultimately I felt like there was more at stake for him than for me-- that the negative emotions he would feel outweighed the positive emotions I would feel.  So I'd encourage you to think comparatively about what this is worth to you vs. the impact on your husband and your in-laws.  Over the years I have missed the tree much less, and we've found other, more neutral ways to both honor my family history and create new shared traditions together.

    This is my family :) many people feel like Xmas trees aren’t religious or no big deal but it really is for some Jewish families. That said I have a mixed family and we have two approaches—a large potted tree that we decorate every year and just lived in our house all year, or waiting until the Xmas tree farm is closed Xmas day or day after and get a free tree then.

    Your post reminded me of what my parents used to do.My great grandmother was an Orthodox Jew so they would just hide the tree in the basement when she came over.

    Sure I can relate. I never saw my Jewish father so angry as he was when when I put up "Christmas" decorations. I put that in quotes because it has nothing to do with Christ. And to a jew it really doesn't matter. Jews do not take on the traditions of any other religion ever! Not the Christians, not the Pagans, not the Druids. Seems to me, that if neither of you adhere to the Jewish religion, that would be the sticking point. But a tree does sort of rub it in their faces. Maybe you could have a  Hanukkah celebration with them and then hide all your decorations. 

    We are culturally Jewish (and raising our kids loosely Jewish, inasmuch as they are of any faith, though we are both agnostics) and we do have a Christmas tree and a secular celebration of the holiday with Santa and all that comes along with that, as I grew up with these traditions as a child in an interfaith family. My husband's parents, who are Conservative Jews, aren't in love with it but have come to terms with it. What has helped was to frame it as unique traditions that we had made for our own family. I do hear your in-laws' concerns about assimilation, but it sounds like the reality is that this ship has sailed, and you are not raising your children in a devout (or perhaps even practicing?) household. For us, it helped when we enrolled our older child in Hebrew school (there are several pretty progressive options in the East Bay that welcome both interfaith and cultural-but-not-practicing families). Somehow that put my in-laws' minds at ease, and we appreciated that it gave our child a better sense of cultural heritage. He was far from the only child who also celebrated Christmas, so it was also helpful for him to see that other families do the mishmash too (and to hear why). You also don't mention how you were raised yourself--if a Christmas tree and celebration of the holiday was part of your background, you can also lift this up as embracing traditions from both families. Good luck, and happy holidays!

    I definitely relate. My family is Orthodox, but we are atheist, secular Jews and we get a christmas tree, in addition to menorahs and lights and stockings and lots of holiday parties. It's a lot of fun for the kids and I like the rituals around Christmas as well as Hanukkah. My mother gets annoyed but oh well - the boys are circumsized and I'll allow them a birthright trip when it's time for that. I think that because its the second year now that your in-laws will get a glimpse of the tree, the emotion of pain over assimilation will hopefully be lessened. But they're not wrong - your family is not like where the prior generation came from. But that's okay. It's life. Enjoy your holidays. Acknowledge sentimentality and your in-laws' culture. These are not mutually exclusive. 

    Since I gather they are not actually visiting, you just need to Skype/have video conversations more carefully. Do them in an enclosed room where the tree isn't visible.

    I also suggest you talk with your children so they understand--all video chats with Grandma and Grandpa need to happen out of sight of the tree, and rehearse "what do I do if they call me."  To make it simple, and ethical, tell them--"We do not lie, and we will tell the truth if we are asked. But we are going to be discreet and not show Grandma/Grandpa the tree because  it means something very different to them that is upsetting. Seeing the tree makes them unhappy, and we want them to be happy." I think this falls under the category of "being kind" by being careful about what they disclose. Don't suggest that they lie, just that they don't volunteer information or transmit pictures that are upsetting.

    It's also perhaps time to talk about how to balance showing love for other people and being kind even when we have widely divergent religious beliefs, while being true to our own beliefs.

    Clearly, since you are not an observant Jew, the "assimilation" is already happening, but this is a fact your in-laws don't wish to face. It may not the be last conflict you and they have over assimilation, but I think you can navigate this one without compromising your own beliefs.

    Good luck!

    Honestly, you might want to skip the tree this year. Maybe add it back in in the future. But with all the anti-Semitic attacks lately, the ubiquitous nature of Christmas in this country could feel like a way to make non-Christians invisible.

    I can relate, and I understand the way you feel. Tricky business, the "December dilemma". I'm the Christian half of a Jewish/Christian couple, and I too love the decorations and coziness of a tree. So we have a Christmas tree, though we keep it out of the FaceTime calls with my inlaws, out of respect and love for them. We also have large menorahs and prominent Jewish decorations in a separate part of the living room, and we host a Hanukkah ONLY party, when we do exclusively Jewish blessings, food, and games. (That's the balance we've struck - I'm not saying this is the "right" compromise. I'm not trying to judge you.). This issue isn't going away anytime soon, and as your "littles" become "biggers," it's going to become important for you to communicate to your inlaws that you do what's best for your family, full stop. If you and your husband decide that a tree is the right choice for your family, then that's the decision and so be it. But it's good to check in with your husband. How does he feel about the decorations? Even if he's not religious, he may have feelings about the tree. (My husband definitely does.) Does your husband share any of his parents' concerns? In this time of raging anti-semitism, it might be make sense to teach your littles a little about Hanukkah -- if not in a religious sense, then just in a cultural sense. The themes of Hannukah are beautiful and it's a way to connect your children to their grandparents. (And again, I'm saying this as the non-Jewish spouse ;))

    Good luck -- I know this isn't easy.

    Yes.  We are not Christian. We have a tree. It is a highlight of the year for our children. I respect the beliefs of my parents and my in-laws, but they do not control our family beliefs and traditions.

    What about decorating with an evergreen garland? You can put lights and a few ornaments on it, but it is not as symbolically loaded as a tree.

    As a response to the commenter here who insists that "Christmas is a Christian holiday" -- ALL of these "Christian" holidays have Pagan roots; why not explore the significance of a "Yule" tree indoors during this time of year, and what it symbolizes. My family has a wonderful Winter Solstice celebration, which includes baking, music, lighting of candles, and yes - a tree. There's no law that says you can't imbue these traditions with your own significance, and having a tree in your house certainly doesn't make you Christian.

    Since you aren't Jewish, I'm curious if you had a Jewish wedding that led your in laws to believe you would raise the kids as Jews? If not, I'm not sure why they would be so surprised that your kids would be 'assimilated'-- particularly since lineage is matrilineal and as a non-Jewish Mom, your children aren't considered Jewish by Orthodox/Conservative Jews...

    Like many who have commented, I was raised Christian but am now agnostic and my husband was raised a Conservative Jew but now believes in God but doesn't practice. Our situation is a little different because I had a child from a previous marriage who isn't of Jewish descent (so we were already celebrating xmas with her for several years before my second daughter was born).

    However, when our daughter was born (with Jewish hubby), it was important for me that she have a naming ceremony so she would have a Hebrew name like everyone on her Dad's side of the family. I educated myself about it, planned it, asked members of his family to read passages during the ceremony.  My DH and I had the same rabbi perform the ceremony who had performed several other ceremonies for their family, etc.  Over the years, I've taken her to Hanukkah celebrations for kids, signed her up to receive PJ library books to learn about Jewish culture, and had her attend a Jewish Day camp one summer--because as a non-Jew, I can't teach her about her Jewish heritage and her Dad isn't interested in that.  My goal is that if, as an adult, she wants to be part of the Jewish community/religion she has some context and it doesn't feel foreign to her.  Her (Jewish) grandparents have appreciated this effort, but they also realize that as non-Jew, I grew up with different traditions and they don't expect me to not celebrate holidays that are important to me.  So every year we celebrate both Hanukkah (the girls light the candles and say the blessings) and Christmas (and Easter and Purim). My in-laws give the Hanukkah presents and my parents give them xmas presents.  Both girls understand the concept of a good deed/mitzvah, and we both volunteer and donate a modest amount of money each year that the girls participate in choosing the charity. 

    You and your husband should chose what is right for your family, and it sounds like celebrating the holidays of your childhood is important to you.  If so, then maybe there is another way that your in laws could feel like your kids are still getting some exposure to Jewish culture/religion--perhaps they could help with the cost of a day or sleepaway Jewish camp or with the cost of Hebrew lessons (if your kids want to do their bar/bat mitzvah when they are older), etc.? If your husband is interested, he could lead the family through Jewish traditions that he grew up with. Or you could make food associated with certain Jewish holidays.  Just a few ideas to get started with...good luck with your decision and...happy holidays! ;-)

    It is a Christian Holiday and the tree is a symbol of that. One person I know made a Gingerbread forest for Tu'B'Shevat (the New Year of the Trees). Is there some way for you to enjoy trees without having an actual Christmas tree? It might be easier for you, if you celebrate more holidays -- secular ones like Thanksgiving or 4th of July -- Jewish ones like Tu'B'Shevat, Purim and Passover. You could decorate the house and hold parties/seders for them. We do a latke fest at Channukah -- I make all kinds of Latkes and decorate the house for the party with Jewish symbols. The more culturally Jewish activities you and your children engage in the easier it will be to let go of the Christian holidays. (We also sometimes admire our Christian-background friend's trees, and go to their cookie parties, etc.)

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How to celebrate Xmas as a nonpracticing Jew?

Nov 2008

How does your family participate in Xmas with in-laws? One side of my family celebrates Xmas and the other doesn't. We, my husband and I have such mixed feelings about Xmas and specifically Santa Claus we haven't found a way to comfortably let our daughter go to her grandparents on Xmas day. One year, Santa showered her with gifts and we were clearly uncomfortable. The next year, she cried because Santa gave more to some others. Yikes, I can not reconcile the two different attitudes in my family about the holidays. One being modest gifts, if any at all and the other into giving gifts. What makes it worse is the difficulty in communicating with my parents. What do you do? SD

How about doing Chanukah in a big way at home? Let the relatives do Christmas with the kids. My kids knew from VERY EARLY on the Santa Clause deal. They got their presents from the in-laws on Christmas day. The presents that other people gave them came home and got opened at our house on Christmas day. Our Chanukah presents were on the 8 days of Chanukah. Now they are older (teens), my in-laws are gone and I am relieved not to have to do Christmas. My kids get small Chanukah presents on 7 nights and they get 1 big one each on the last night. This year we may agree to get a new TV as our ''family'' Chanukah present and that's it. HOpe this helps. anon

It seems to me that sticking to the same routine each year will help your daughter understand that people have different ways of celebrating. Maybe with the half of the family that isn't so into gifts, traditional foods and cooking and baking can be the special focus of your holiday visit with them. Or you could explain that Santa finds it easier to get into Grandma and Grandpa So and So's house more easily because of the large front door (or chimney, or whatever), so that's where he leaves the most gifts. My husband was born Jewish, but raised by his Jewish dad and non- Jewish stepmom. I was raised agnostic, but converted to Judaism. We celebrate Hanukkah at home, Christmas with our neighbors and friends, and both, long distance, with the 2 sets of grandparents. Our kids just know that we get the best of all worlds, celebrating in many ways with our many groups of friends and family. If it's tough to take her to Grandma & Grandpa's on Christmas, go on Christmas Eve instead, or the day after. Start new traditions that she will enjoy when she goes. If Christmas Day at the grandparents involves lots of cousins and relatives opening PILES of gifts, and you're not into that, don't make your daughter feel bad by exposing her to it . Go at a different time when you can focus on things other than gifts. Like crafts, storytelling, baking cookies, whatever. Heidi

I think you will find it easier if you give up trying to control the grandparents of your child. Just let them do what they normally do, and tell your child that different people celebrate the December holidays in different ways. Then create a holiday in your home that everyone can enjoy. Perhaps emphasize homemade decorations and togetherness instead of Santa and consumerism. In our household only small gifts and practical gifts were given in December, and larger gifts were given other times: a bike in spring or a computer when school started, for instance. And we never called it xmas or Christmas. In fact I think Kwanzaa would be a good one because then you can get things on sale after the holidays. anon

I am bi-racial. My mother is Jewish and my father was raised Christian. As a child my family celebrated both Christmas and Channukah. Around the time I turned 8 yrs old my parents got tired of doing both holidays, and asked my sister and I to choose which we would like to continue with. We chose Channukah. (8 days of gifts sounded better...!) As a teenager, I spent many Christmas's with friends. Now as adults we both identify as Jewish ( I guess we always have.) and still celebrate Channukah as well as other major Jewish holidays. We celebrate Christmas with our non Jewish family and friends, but is not made a huge deal. dont stress out about it

How to spend Xmas as a Jewish family

Dec 2007

I am looking for a nice way for a secular Jewish family (2 parents and a 7-year-old) to spend Xmas. What do other people do??? As a family we've gone out for Chinese food, to the Cal Academy of Sciences, movies, etc...but ideally, I would like to find a community of other Jews to spend the day with to feel less alone. Are there any organized events that happen in the Bay Area? Do other families have ideas for nice ways to spend the day? (and Xmas eve?) Thank you! anonymous

The Jewish communal organizations do step up to the plate for Xmas. Synagogues and JCCs offer events for families. The Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF is offering a free Family day. Look at this page for details. I know one of the synagogues in Walnut Creek is doing a Fiddler on the Roof singalong.

The SF JCC also has a day for families: Or you might make your own tradition. My sister-in-law has a party every xmas eve for all her jewish friends. I know it's not chanukah but you could make latkes again. Or you could just make other fun food. One family I know has a BIG train set that the dad & son set up ALL THRU the house on xmas day. You get there and there is track and trains all over. Kids love it. You could have a brunch and invite friends. Just make simple breakfast food. If you want a copy of ''Resource'' the bay area Jewish Yellow pages just to see who is where and what's their phone number, call me at work and I'll mail you one. 510-839-2900 x347 (Building Jewish Bridges, in the east bay) Dawn

what a sweet idea! i'm watching this post to see what people suggest! i am going to ask around my synagogue to see what other people are doing - thanks for inspiring me! we always went to movies and had chinese or indian food in years past, but it would be nice to have some kind of get-together that isn't Christmassy. humbug

Some synagogues (including Beth El in Berkeley, I believe) have fun activities for Jewish families on Xmas day. Our family generally deals with this by traveling -- it's a great time to be out of the country. NYC also has plenty of things to do on Xmas day for those who don't celebrate the holiday. Other fun things are going to the beach, a park, Pt. Reyes, Golden Gate Park, etc. and enjoying the lack of crowds. Sometimes it's fun to be alone! anon

I'm confused... if the whole point is that Christmas is not a holiday for you, why are you looking for a way to treat it as a special day (and eve)? Isn't that why (in New York, at least), it's the time for movies and Chinese food? It's a day like any other day (except more stores are closed). Why not catch up on household chores or that book you've been meaning to get to? anon

The JCC in San Francisco is having a family event on Christmas. I saw the ad in the Dec. issue of Parent's Press, or you can call the Jewish Community Center in S.F. Happy Chanukah

If you know other Jewish and non-christian families, a multi-family pot-luck would be fun. There's a new children's playground in Chinatown that the kids might like to check out after the pot-luck.

I work with a lot of Hindus from India and a lot of atheists in I.T., and I could ask them how they plan to spend their day off for more ideas. Many of them will be on vacation for the entire week, so I don't think they plan to do anything different on the 25th.

It doesn't really seem fair to be forced to celebrate another religion's holiday in a country that was founded on the concept that there would be no favoritism toward any one religion over another. Historian

I relate:) Click here for: ''Chinese food on Christmas'' fellow jew at the movies on christmas

With Christmas just a week away I thought I'd give this link to Jewish things to do. I plan to have a Game Day with friends. Well, food too. Jewish mom

Jewish Convert Loves Xmas!

Nov 2007

So, I'm converting to Judaism, which feels so right for me and my family. I am making Shabbat every week, observing the holidays, working with a rabbi who I love, reading a lot, learning Hebrew and the prayers. My only problem is that I can't envision December without Xmas. It was the only happy time in my childhood, and it's a season that I've always enjoyed. My child has been celebrating Xmas all her life, as well as the rest of our extended families. For us, it's all about the secular stuff (tree, Santa, snowmen, etc). I am sensitive to the fact that most Jews see Xmas as a religious holiday, no matter what. Then again, I also know that some Jews have trees, visit Santa, etc. I also know that this subject is usually one of the hardest things for Jewish converts to deal with. I am finally reaching the point in my life where I would CONSIDER giving up Xmas, but I'm feeling really sad about it. I would appreciate some feedback from people who have been in my position. It's weird to be in the process of becoming a Jew but looking forward to decorating my Xmas tree! Then again, aren't most holidays just stolen from the pagans anyway, so why can't our family keep our secular holiday? I'd love to hear how other people have addressed this issue. Ho Ho Hoping to Find Some Peace

My situation is a little different from yours. I had a Jewish parent and a Christian parent growing up and we celebrated both sets of holidays. I later decided I was Jewish, just Jewish, and gave up Christmas my first year of college. It was a little hard, although it was what I wanted. Here's what I did. I went completely cold turkey. I forced myself to feel completely divorced from the holiday and wouldn't even think about any happy Christmas things like the music or the baking because it would make me sad. Within a few years, the holiday felt completely foreign to me and now I almost have to remind myself that I grew up celebrating it. My mother eventually converted to Judaism, and I think she had a harder time giving up Christmas than I did. I think she essentially did what I did.

I don't know if you're asking for advice on how to give up Christmas or whether to give up Christmas. I'm of the opinion that Jews don't celebrate Christmas, and if you're converting you ought to give it up, even the secular parts. You're right that Christmas is a sensitive topic for Jews which is surely due to the fact that it's the holiday of the majority of the country. If you were talking about a secular holiday from, say, Tibetan culture, people might be more inclined to find it touching that you incorporated it into Jewish life. But, in America at least, Christmas is different.

As you spend more time being Jewish, happy family memories will become attached to the Jewish holidays instead and I imagine it will get easier. Good luck. Sarah

You are not alone. Plenty of converts go through the same issues. Everything you say sounds familiar. It's just pagan stuff, it's all about family, Xmas is the only happy time from my childhood. It's all true! It's not about religion, it's about family. And it's also true that most Jews see Xmas as a Christian holiday, no matter what. If you want to give up Christmas you, need support. If you don't want to give up Christmas, you need support. I'm going to pose your dilemma to my email list for Jews by Choice and see what they say. If you want me to email you their answers you can send me an email at dawn [at] Your rabbi should be a good source of some thoughtful feedback. But if you want to talk to someone who has actually walked this road, I'd be happy to put you in touch with dozens of people -- including a rabbi who converted. Dawn

As a Jew who was raised in a Jewish house and married a Jew and has never celebrated X-mas in my own home I say Go ahead and continue to celebrate X-mas!

It is your tradition and holiday and there is no reason not to continue to enjoy it. Plenty of Jewish children celebrate X-mas if one of their parents is not Jewish.

Judaism is not such a fragile religion that it can't stand in the face of a decorated tree and some beautiful songs. As you know, Judaism is much more than ''not Christian''. As long as your feelings about and practice of Judaism are positive, and you celebrate the Jewish holidays and practice the Jewish traditions, then I don't think celebrating X-mas is going to detract from your Judaism.

--a good Jew who personally authorizes your enjoyment of Xmas

I was raised Jewish and always felt like I was missing out on was so beautiful, and to me not a religious holiday,but more a celebration of winter (yes, it was originally a pagan celebration of the solstice). When I left home to go to college I started celebrating Christmas...I'd get a tree and decorate it every year. I loved making decorations, wrapping presents, etc. I also lived for a long time in cold snowy places so it seemed even more appropriate.

My husbandis 1/2 Jewish and was raised with Christmas so we would celebrate Christmas and our kids got a bit older we put more emphasis on Chanukah but still decorated and did gifts big time....eventually it stopped feeling right to celebrate Christmas, as my older son was getting near his BarMItzvah year...the excitement was gone and I was too tired to do all the decorating, etc. For the past many years, we celebrate Chanukah in a much quieter and more spiritual way...we light the Chanukiah,sing songs, have latke parties with friends and give smaller gifts. Much more sane for us. I hope this point is....if you love Christmas, celebrate Christmas. There is no law that says you can't. LOTS of Jews celebrate Christmas and Chanukah. anon

How about observing Xmas as a celebration of your childhood? Given that you are converting to Judaism I assume you don't treasure the religious element of Christmas but rather the childhood memories. You don't say whether your significant other has a problem with Xmas. If not, I think you should continue to get enjoyment out of the observance. Seems like pretty innocuous fun to me. A Jew who enjoys the Christmas spirit

I would suggest contacting Rabbi Bridget Wynne at J-Gate in El Cerrito; Dawn Kepler who I believe is at the Jewish Community Foundation of the Greater East Bay; or the Berkeley Richmond JCC (now has a different name) for really good individual and group conversations about interfaith issues. You can get contact info and other recommendations at Info [at] which is an online version of Resource: A Guide to Jewish Life in the Bay Area. Wishing you well at this time of bringing light into the darkness. Take care

I wonder whether it would help to know that many ''Christmas'' traditions are actually pre-Christian, pagan traditions. The Christmas tree, for instance, the use of candles/lights, gift- giving, etc. You could perhaps transform the ''Christmas'' theme into a solstice theme, the return of light to the world, and modify the Christmas traditions a little to emphasize that aspect. During the winter in Northern Europe, it was actually often easier to travel across snow and frozen lakes that it was to try to journey over bad roads, and visiting and feasting (after the harvest and the slaughter of animals) would take place then. Maybe that would help... secular Christmas is kind of empty, too

In our family (Jewish mom, Christain dad) we celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah, and our children certainly have no complaints. We consider this a 'more the merrier' issue. Happy With Both

We are Buddhist converts and agree this time of year is a pretty special. The thing is Christmas it is meant to be Christ's birthday and to a Christian person that is a big deal. So out of respect to Christians, we celebrate the day of opening gifts etc. on the Winter Solstice. We are in the habit of calling them Solstice gifts, and the tree a Solstice tree.We make a really big deal out of the day. We read books about it and make crafts,light lots of candles and dress up. We also make smaller deals of the Equinoxes and have a bonfire somewhere on the Summer Solstice. It is almost impossible not to get caught up in this season's brightness so we make it about the light. When The Buddha's birthday comes around we really go for it, cake, presents,friends, I give presentations at their school etc. 'Tis the season

Don't give it up! I converted to Judaism several years ago, after being raised in a completely secular (parents were Agnostic/Atheist) household, WITH Christmas, Easter, etc. I feel exactly the same as you; I love Christmas and everything that goes along with it--the smells, the sights, the way it makes grumpy people nicer... My kids know they're Jewish, and we don't have any Christmas-y things in our house, except wrapping paper, when I'm getting family and friends' gifts ready. BUT, my kids have wanted to sit on Santa's lap and get their picture taken. No problem. We go to Tilden Park's Holiday Fantasyland at the carousel. We celebrate Christmas at friends' homes, admiring the trees and mistletoe, and even go to a kid-friendly Mass on Christmas Eve, at a friend's house. My kids identify themselves as Jewish, and are proud of it. They'll tell the lady at Safeway that Santa doesn't come to our house because we celebrate Hanukkah. But they say it happily, and without feeling like they're missing anything. They understand that some people are Jewish, others are Christian, and lots of people have other religions and traditions too. Do what feels good to you. Enjoy Christmas for what it means to you, and don't feel pressured to turn your head the other way when you hear Ho Ho Ho or bells jingling. Hum along when you hear Deck the Halls; it's a big part of your history, and you shouldn't be asked to deny it. Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas! Heidi

I was ''raised'' Jewish (in a kind of obligatory half ass way) and my family (though they deny any recollection of this) always celebrated Christmas. My mother now is horrified at the mere mention of ''pine boughs''. Not kidding. That should be your first clue of the Jewish guilt my mom is feeling for ''not really'' raising us a Jews. So, I married a non-religious man who was raised something or another (non Jewish). And, we celebrate Christmas. I, too, am interested in the all the fun, especially for the kids, and the decorating, etc. etc. so I just do it. My advice to you is to just do it. Go For It

I converted to Judaism about 8 years ago now, before I got married and I felt and still feel the same as you. I love being a Jew, love celebrating Shabbat with my family, love Passover and Yom Kippur and the rest, but I still love Christmas. It also seemed like such a major issue at the time of my conversion, but honestly, it really isn't any more. It doesn't have to be that hard. I didn't choose Judaism because I wanted an organized religion to tell me how to feel, or what I could or couldn't do. Christmas is a beautiful holdiday based on an ancient pagan tradition that has been co-opted by commercialization. I love the idea of a living tree in the middle of winter, lights (along with the Hannukah lights) lighting up the darkest time of year, loving, thoughtful (non- commercial, small scale) gift-giving, egg nog etc. We usually celebrate Christmas with my family. My kids (2 and 4) hang stockings, make tree ornaments, eat turkey, etc. We don't go to church with them, but we share in the rest of it. We don't actually get a tree at our own house, more for environmental reasons than anything else, but we do hang lights. My daughter and I go to the Nutcracker. At first there was all this tension, my born-Jewish husband all anxious about participating, my parents all freaked out that they wouldn't be able to share their traditions with their grandchildren. We all just sort of got over it with practice. My husband loves hanging stockings and has invented Hannukah Harry who also brings gifts, my mom makes Latkes if Hannukah overlaps, my dad reads the same Christmas books he read to me as a child, but changes key phrases - reading them as history rather than the as the story of the birth of the son of god. The Jewish grandparents send my parents a big Christmas basket every year. It's all very nice and happy. I totally know how you feel. I was in the same place, but I think it will get easier. It's your path: Walk it in the way that makes sense to you. I love our new Christmas traditions, just as I love my new Shabbat traditions - which now feel old too, after only 8 years. Things may evolve more as my kids get older and start to make distinctions between things, but I'm not too worried about it. We'll just work it out then. Good luck! Christmassy Jew

I was once in your position - in fact, I delayed studying for conversion because I had such a hard time imagining December without Christmas. I was finally able to let it go when I had filled my life up the other 11 months of the year with Jewish ritual and celebration -- Shabbat, High Holy Days, Sukkot, Pesach, etc. I too grew up in a family in which Christmas was our only family celebration. After I converted, we tried to spend Christmas with my family and keep the decorations, etc. there and not bring them into my house. It really became a relief to only celebrate one holiday at home in December and let go of the need to do a ''perfect'' Christmas every year. My only regret is that I didn't let go of it sooner, as now my Jewish children still call Christmas their favorite holiday! While many of the traditions, etc. are pagan and largely secular to many Americans, it is still a celebration of the Messiah's birth and Jews just don't feel a part of it, so continuing to celebrate it in your home, if you continue to participate actively in a Jewish community, might start to feel rather odd in a few years. Been there

Observant Jew married to Jewish atheist who likes Christmas

January 2003

We are a generally-very-compatible couple seeking advise/guidance/formal mediation? in dealing with the immense and perennial conflicts surrounding observance of any kind of religious/seasonal rituals in our house. One parent is fairly observant Jewish and likes to do seders, celebrate Hannukah, etc.; the other is a Jewish atheist who grew up with (and feels very fondly towards) Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, and painted Easter eggs (but no church, crucifixes, etc.). The observant parent is not comfortable with the ''let's just celebrate it all'' approach, and the non-observant parent is resentful at having to jettison all childhood traditions. The conflict has - predictably - gotten even more intense with the arrival of kids. We are not looking for folks to weigh in as to what we ''should'' do, but rather, looking for a recommendation as to a sympathetic third party with some experience in these thorny matters who could help facilitate a calm discussion that would lead to a long-term plan for dealing with holidays in our family. Thanks for any help!

I have a few recommendations for you: 1) Since you mentioned mediation as an option you are interested in. Please go to, the Berkeley Dispute Resolution Service. They provide low cost mediations on a wide range of issues.

2) Interfaith connections in the east bay at: They have many workshops, and provide counceling services as well. There are events that involve extended family as well.

3)While you asked for no advice, having been through it myself, I strongly suggest you remember this is YOUR family and you (both) should set the rules. They do as they like in their home, they do as you do in your home! peter

Since despite your different perspectives, both of you are Jewish, I would suggest you find a rabbi or other Jewish professional who might provide both counsel and education toward framework for deciding what practices meet your joint values. You might want to start looking for a referral by contacting the East Bay Council of Rabbis (chair: Rabbi Harry Manhoff; 510-357-1375).

I write this as a Jewish educator of many years, who has worked with a very diverse group of families. In my experience, including my own marriage, every family is an 'interfaith' family because every partner brings his or her own spiritual attachments to it. It may not make it less painful, but you should know your conflicts are not unique. Keep talking! Carol

Several places to go for some free help have been listed here before, but here they are: Building Jewish Bridges in Oakland 510-839-2900 x347 Jewish Family & Children's Services 510-704-7475 One that hasn't been mentioned is the East Bay's Community Rabbi Program. You can call Rabbi Muriam Senturia at 510-839-2900 x212. She is very kind. She can also refer you to rabbis from all the movements if you want one that fits your background. Good luck and don't dispair. anon

Santa & Jewish Kids

As long as people are contributing their stories about how to explain Santa to children who celebrate Xmas, I would love to hear from Jewish parents about how we might explain this pervasive, jolly character to our children who celebrate a very different kind of holiday. (Actually, I would enjoy hearing from ANY parents who don't celebrate Xmas and how they handle this). Gail

This wasn't an issue at my house- at age 2.5, I decided that daddy was Santa Claus, and affirmed the fact with my mother... hence, I have no recollection of believing in Santa Claus. However, we did use Santa Claus in an abstract manner, ie to give additional gifts, usually something that wasn't as personal as a gift from Mom or Dad (or siblings, grandparents, whatever) might be- for example, we always had stockings, and those were filled by Santa Claus. Santa Claus might bring a new bathrobe or a stuffed animal, etc- something nice to have but not necessarily the most wanted item. To me, Santa Claus is basically a way to give someone something and remain anonymous, such as the gifts collected for children in disadvantaged families, etc... it's a way of giving with no interest in receiving something in return, if that makes any sense. A symbol of good will. In any event, the birth of Christ was the primary focus in my family, so St. Nicolaus was a bit of a side-liner. Naomi

Growing up Chinese-American, I always felt partly Jewish (if you understand, you understand; if you don't don't worry about it). Anyway, Santa Claus is about as foreign to Chinese culture (even Chinese Christian culture) as it is to Jewish culture. As a kid, it never occurred to me that I should believe in Santa Claus any more than I should believe in Captain Kangaroo or Winnie the Pooh. That is, I enjoyed the fiction as fiction, just as I enjoyed storybooks. Sometimes people say that not giving kids the chance to believe in Santa Claus impoverishes their imaginative life, but that wasn't my experience at all -- not needing it to be real meant that I could let the imagination go even more freely. I remember writing a story about how Santa was able to get everywhere in one night. I think it was the very first time I ever tried to write a story and I remember how much I enjoyed the creative process of doing it. If Santa was constrained in my mind to be real, I'd have been worried about figuring out what the Truth was -- even little kidlets care about the Truth! :) -- and I wouldn't have been able to imagine as freely as I did. So, both as a kid and as a grown-up, I always appreciated having had the opportunity to enjoy Santa for what he truly is, i.e. a jolly story. Christianity didn't have a lot to do with it. (Hm- if I don't stop writing now, I might start into an essay on the independence of christian faith from the cultures it takes root in, which I don't want to inflict on you :) so I'll stop here.) \t\t\t Joyce

I always told my son that Santa Claus was a story, and not true, once he had heard about it, but told him that it was a secret we couldn't tell others. I haven't brought it up with my younger daughter yet, because she doesn't know about it at all, but I will soon. My reasoning was two-fold. First, I never believed in Santa (or the easter bunny, for that matter) so it didn't seem like a necessary thing to me. Second, the story is that Santa gives gifts to good children. My son would not be getting anything from Santa. Ergo. . . This was a message I certainly wanted to avoid.

Warning: I have had other people criticize me for not letting my children believe in Santa. They say children should have the opportunity to be spoiled with gifts. Whether or not I agree with this, the issue is moot as we celebrate all 8 nights of Hanukah (each family member has 2 nights to **give** gifts to the family, and I make sure grandparent gifts get given to the giver!) and my sons birthday is in December -- quite enough gifts for anyone! They also say it will make my kids different from the rest of society. Well, they're different anyway. There's also the line that if you don't believe in Santa, you won't be as imaginative. Well, these people should read the stories my son writes! (We wrote one together that is of publishable quality, according to a librarian who reviews books for publishers) Also, my son's teacher, when discussing another topic, said she noted a difference in creativity more linked to whether a child watched a lot of television (these kids were the less creative), so avoiding all those Santa Claus television specials should only be a help!

So do what feels right. I can't imagine your children will resent your telling them the truth on this issue. Wendy

As for how to deal with Christmas when you aren't Christian, we always make a big deal about Hannukah. In fact, this was a way that we dealt with the holidays after my husband's death. I know my daughter asked at some point for a Christmas tree, but I explained that it wasn't part of our traditions and as she got older, why it wasn't. Granted she does get a bit of both worlds as my in-laws celebrate Christmas and send cards and presents. However, she usually opens them when they arrive and doesn't wait, as why should she. Plus we often get invited to friends houses for the day. Our other tradition is that we always go to the movies either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I always thought it was Jewish tradition that this is what you did on Christmas.

I do have a funny story on this topic. I read this true story in the Metropolitan Diary column in the New York Times one Sunday. A Jewish family's babysitter insisted on taking the daughter in the family to see Santa Claus at the local mall. The mother was reluctant to allow it, but finally reneged. When Santa had the girl on his lap he asked her the usual And what would you like for Christmas little girl? The girl replied I'm Jewish. We celebrate Hannukah at our house. To which Santa whispered That's ok. My wife is Jewish. Debbie

About being Jewish and acknowledging Christmas: My family celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas, which I think was wise. It kept us from being isolated from the majority of kids, and added to the fun. I don't remember when I stopped believing in Santa or even whether I ever did. Somehow all that stuff works out fine, if you're just natural about it and don't stress. My daughter is 4-1/2, and is remarkably aware, I think, of what pretending is, so fantasies about Halloween, Christmas, and other holidays aren't such bubbles, just fun. Nancy

Last year there was a whole long discussion on this on soc.culture.jewish.parenting If you go to and do a search for the thread Christmas Coping you'll get treated to a great discussion.

My basic attitude is to be as positive and exaggerated about our holidays and traditions and to just not make a big deal, either positively or negatively, about non-Jewish holidays. The problem for Jewish parents with the Santa myth is the part about Santa delivering gifts to all good girls and boys (one awful response I read, I think, in the thread above, is that Santa only goes to Christian houses because Christian parents can't afford the gifts and Jewish parents can, UGH!) If we tell our kids the truth, which I intend to do, then if they turn around and tell they're Christian friends we are accused of spoiling things for them. Not a fair position to be in, IMHO. It would be much easier if all weren't part of the myth. I'm not sure what parents do with older siblings who've discovered there's no tooth fairy. I guess some kids can understand and play along while others can't. In any case, if a parent chooses to tell the myth to their children it should be their burden to explain, in an acceptable way, that Santa is wonderful, but not necessarily universal. Sophie

My husband is Christian and I'm Jewish. We have celebrated both Christmas and Chanukkah in our house, but I believe that Judiasm is not compatible with Christianity as Jewish people do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. I do not know how to reconcile this contradiction in the future, except to raise him as Jewish (my first inclination). Could other parents of this type of background comment. And, I respect both religions as being part of a continuum, the Judeo-Christian background.

I want to bring up celebrating Christmas and Hannukah in non-religious families. My children's father is Jewish but he doesn't go to temple (his parents go once or twice a year.) I was brought up in a very religious Christian family but I do not practice Christianity myself. When our kids were small, we celebrated both Christmas and Hannukah. What I discovered is that my kids learned a lot about the secular Christmas - Santa, Frosty, Rudolf, etc. - from school and TV and friends, but they knew almost nothing about why Christmas is such an important Christian holiday. All references to Christianity were carefully avoided in school. As to Hannukuh, they learned about dreidels and latkes in school and got the general mistaken impression that Hannukah is a major Jewish holiday equivalent to the Christian holiday of Christmas. Though we all have always enjoyed the festivity of Hannukah candles and Christmas tree and Santa, and continue to do so, it was important to me to make sure my kids also knew about the religious meaning of both holidays, and the cultural significance of why we celebrate them.

So, my take on this is that the Christmas season has come to be a kind of general purpose non-religious children's holiday in terms of school and TV land, but parents who want to preserve their own cultural and religious heritage will need to see to this themselves. I don't think this is a bad thing, and certainly it's much better than assuming that everyone in the classroom is going to be celebrating Christmas, as was the case when I was a kid. But we non-practicing parents do need to be aware, I think, that our kids are not going to grasp the significance of Christmas or Hannukah or any other religious holidays without some instruction from us.

I'm also Jewish (non-practicing but with European parents 3 blocks away who lived through WWII) and am married to a non-practicing Catholic, and we have two children who think of themselves as Jewish (they know that in the Jewish faith if the mother is Jewish, the kids are Jewish). We celebrate Christmas and Chanukah, and try to make them both special family holidays and lots of fun, without emphasizing the religious aspects. We've had to answer numerous questions about Jesus, and I simply tell them that he was a very special man who cared about people a lot, and died for it (as did Martin Luther King), and that he actually was Jewish. I explain that Christians believe that he was the son of God, and started a new religion around that belief, and Jews just think he was a good man and kept to the old religion. I stress that no one knows what theory is correct, but that all religions teach about being good people and helping others, and that's the important thing to remember. I am equally unopinionated about whether Santa or the tooth fairy exist, they might and they might not, same for ghosts and spirits and fairies. All things are possible, and as they get older, they will make up their own minds. They seem to enjoy this anything is possible attitude. Its a tough call and I sometimes think I'm not doing the right thing by leaving everything so open and vague, but in many ways, its what I actually believe. Helen

I am Jewish and my husband is not. When we were first together (early 1970's, we were just out of college), religious practices seemed unimportant. I did my thing at Hillel sometimes or made a seder and he did nothing. As I got older, even before our children were born, I began to realze that it would be almost imposssible for me not to have a Jewish family life. At the same time, I love my in-laws, they have wonderful rich traditions, and my husband's growing up with his family (including their church, their Christmas) formed the man I loved.

Over the years, I have come to some idiosyncratic views about being Jewish in December. In the end, years of discussion later (but with no conflict) we have a Jewish family. We don't celebrate Christmas ourselves at all. However, we always make my husband's grandmother's Christmas cookies, I send cards (the kind that don't mention Christmas graphically or in the text), I put the cards we receive around the fireplace, and for many years (before we moved) we helped friends decorate their tree. I always told my children that Santa is part of the Christmas celebration that we don't do, and that Santa is really a regular person dressed up. My husband used to tell them a story about how he recognized his dad in the Santa suit. I also always told my children (when their friends were young enough to believe) that the Santa story was a treat for some kids, and that they would be disappointed if they found out Santa was someone dressed up. We give money to the Salvation Army Santas and we give toys to Toys for Tots.

On the other hand, there is something great about waking up to all those presents! So, I do it on their birthdays. They always wake up early, the presents are wrapped up, they always wait until their siblings are up (amazing to me their patience) and then they open them all, just like I always imagine people do on Christmas.

We don't do presents for Chanukah (chocolate gelt aside and occasional hand-made things from school). But I make latkes until I can't stand the smell, we light candles, sing, etc. I try hard not to make Chanukah (a minor holiday, after all) into a Chrismas competitor. One of the things I've come to do is to try to teach my children about Christmas as a religious holiday. (Here's where I part company with the organized Jewish community.) I'd rather the schools did nativity scenes and real Christmas carols (and Jewish families could share Passover, for example) than Santa and reindeer and presents. Christmas is profoundly important to my in-laws and for many people. It has deep religious, spiritual meaning. I really believe that the other stuff is also part of Christmas (that's why I don't do it, I really don't think it's all secular). However, without some understanding of the connection and the religious part, December can be very confusing for non Christian families.

Good luck to all. (Email me directly if you'd like to talk more about Jewish and non Jewish family members in the Jewish community. I've spent some time working on these issues and I'd love to hear your stories and concerns.) Emily

Similar to the thread about Santa and Jewish kids, my husband and I are trying to figure out how we want our child (15 months) to experience the holiday season in a family that isn't religious and doesn't want to be involved in the crass commercialism of Santa. Our holidays have historically involved a lot of food and friends or family and are celebratory in their own way, but don't have any real traditions or explanations of why we are celebrating. We're thinking that focusing on the seasonal aspect of the holiday and getting more information on the solstice might be the way to go. Does anyone know of any books for kids that outline the more pagan aspects of the season, or know of any local organizations that celebrate it that way? Chris

When my son (now 6) asked about Santa, or Jesus, or other hard to prove issues, I prefaced my answer with some people believe.... When he was younger, he seemed to not hear the first part, but as he's gotten older, he listens to my explanations, and then asks what do you believe? Since my husband and I often believe differently on these issues, our son gets two different beliefs, and can choose for himself what he will believe. In this way, I feel like I've given him a good chance to believe in the fun and story of Santa, without compromising my feelings of lying to him. Molly