Deck the challahs!
Sip some eggnog with those latkes, light the menorah by the glow of the Christmas tree. The first night of Hanukkah will coincide with Christmas Eve this year for the first time in a generation, leaving interfaith families and friends with this rare dilemma: How, exactly, to ring in Chrismukkah?
Peggy Stevens has mapped out an elaborate schedule of Dec. 24 festivities for about a dozen friends and family — she and her husband are Christian; both of her sons-in-law are Jewish, and a daughter converted to Judaism. Christmas tree decorating, with carols playing in the background, will commence in the afternoon. Some will attend the 6 p.m. Christmas Eve service at First Church Cambridge, then everyone will regroup for the lighting of the menorah at home. After that, a latke dinner party, topped off with her husband’s traditional reading of “The Night Before Christmas” and the hanging of stockings before bed.
“I’m a little worried about how we’re going to fit it all in,” Stevens said with a laugh.
Such whirlwind celebrations are becoming commonplace in the Boston area, where a recent study found that 47 percent of couples in local Jewish households have a non-Jewish partner. Twenty-two percent of children with interfaith parents are being raised in both religions or a religion other than Judaism, according to the Combined Jewish Philanthropies survey.
Every clan has its own philosophy on how best to approach the Christmas-Hanukkah conundrum.
Some are purists. Susan Katz Miller, who wrote about being part of a multigenerational interfaith family in “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family,” is not a fan of putting tinsel on the menorah.
“We let each of the two holidays be separate historically and culturally, in part because we wanted our children to understand the individual significance of each religion and of each holiday,” she said.
Observing both Jewish and Christian holidays throughout the year, she said, takes the pressure off pumping up Hanukkah at Christmastime. For Jews, Hanukkah is a relatively minor religious holiday commemorating the recapture and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC. Christians consider Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus, one of the two most important holidays on the calendar.
Katz Miller’s kids are young adults now, but on Dec. 24, her family will set aside a moment to light the first Hanukkah candle, then devote the rest of the evening to Christmas. They’ll “lean into Hanukkah” — an eight-day festival — later in the week, she said.
Other families are joyfully making a mishmosh of the two.
Karolyn Feeks Maws, a Christian, and her husband, the chef Tony Maws, who is Jewish, will start Christmas Eve at Craigie on Main, where Maws will take a break from the kitchen to light the first Hanukkah candle with his family and some of the staff.
Then, Feeks Maws and the couple’s 8-year-old son, Charlie, will head to church for the Christmas service. They’ll open presents at home the next morning around their Christmas tree — topped with a homemade Star of David — and share bagels and lox with Maws’s family. Then, they’ll head to her parents’ house, bringing latkes for Charlie’s Christian cousins.
“Living in these times, we don’t feel pressure to be one or the other, or to walk on eggshells around any of this,” Feeks Maws said.
Sheila C. Gordon, founding president of Interfaith Community, a community and resource for interfaith families, was outraged in 2003 when a character on the TV show “The O.C.” proposed “Chrismukkah” as a compromise for his quarreling interfaith parents.
“I hope that our religious differences don’t just deteriorate into, we can all get along by wearing a red yarmulke with white fur,” said Gordon, a Dorchester native who is Jewish and married to an Episcopalian.
But she says she has come to see the upside of the overlapping holidays — an opportunity to think about the values Christians and Jews share, “that we are all children of God, and that the birth of a child has great power and gives people great hope, and that you help other people, especially poor people.”
That’s true for the Rev. Angel Marrero, a Lutheran pastor in Waltham, whose Jewish husband will meet him at church for the reception after Christmas Eve services. Back at home, they’ll light the fourth candle on their Advent wreath, and complete a Christmas devotional together.
Then, they’ll blow out the Advent candles and light the menorah.
“For me, it’s an invitation for deeper reflection on, what does it mean that Jesus is Jewish?” he said. “How does that throw light into our understanding of the things we do and the things we celebrate?”
And then, he said, “We will literally open Christmas presents by the light of the Hanukkah candles.”
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.