The Holidays through the Eyes of an Interfaith Teenager


Emily Smith

With the holidays in full swing, the final months of the year seem to have a magical aspect to them—for everyone else but me. My mother was raised Jewish and my father is Christian and instead of choosing one they decided to raise my brother and I to celebrate both.

December hence is always the busiest month of the year for me: the hustle and bustle of the holiday season doubles when celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. As if prepping for one celebration is not stressful enough on top of school and other activities, imagine a whole month jam-packed with double the commitments. In my life, “the most wonderful time of the year” is often overrun by tension between Hanukkah and Christmas.

Every few years, Hanukkah and Christmas overlap, and as someone who celebrates both—it is not as exciting as some might think. During those years, my house becomes a jumble of holiday disaster. I mean having a Christmas tree out at the same time as the menorah is very awkward, so they stay in completely separate rooms.

The heap of confusion that comes with celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas is not only relevant during the winter months: it always feels like there is a missing link somewhere. Throughout childhood into adolescence, it has been a struggle connecting to friends on aspects regarding religion. Because I was never bar mitzvahed or confirmed, it occasionally feels strange to not have that unique sense of belonging.

Holiday parties are always a blast, but when Hanukkah and Christmas fall closely on the calendar, others like myself switch back and forth between holidays every weekend until New Year’s. One would think that because Hanukkah started on the 12th of December this year that events would be spread out evenly in the two weekends between that and Christmas, but things never seem to work out that perfectly. One night, it is time to light the menorah and spin the dreidel and the next I have to be ready to “get my jingle on!”

Almost every year my family’s Hanukkah party is scheduled the same day as a Christmas party. I have no idea how parties end up being so poorly scheduled consecutively, to be quite honest. Remember that in 2016, the first night of Hanukkah was on Christmas Eve. It was hectic to say the least. Since my mother’s side of the family celebrates only Hanukkah and my father’s just celebrates Christmas, we like to gather separately. My family and I prefer when we can separate events, but on the years where the two holidays overlap we are forced to pick and choose what side of the family to spend time with.

With the overwhelming mountain of celebration comes a need to buy double gifts. Buying for loved ones is already nearly impossible, but having to come up with two separate present ideas is even harder.

Another hurdle that comes with all this gift-giving: the average high schooler’s tight budget. I tend to leave only a few dollars towards a gift for each person, and that becomes a major problem every year. Spending hours attempting complicated “D.I.Y’s” is not an option for me either as a result of my busy schedule. I still have yet to discover a way to solve my budget issues.

The competition between the two holidays makes the season even more awkward as Christmas is naturally dominant because it is more widely celebrated. With everything covered in red and green, it feels like Christmas takes over every aspect of life in December. As soon as October ends, stores fill with all of the festive essentials to prepare for December 25th, but it is upsetting to see that only a small, hidden section is for Hanukkah. Occasionally I feel pressure to conform to the majority and just embrace Christmas.

On top of the general competition, even mixed decorations set someone who is interfaith up for criticism. What happens when there is no choice but to attempt to embrace both holidays at the same time?

Even though celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas can be stressful at times in the holiday season, it makes every year a bit more exciting than the average person’s. Experiencing the dual cultures that come with the two celebrations has made my life quite interesting, and I love that about being interfaith. With celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas over the years, my family and I have learned to honor both holidays in ways unique to us, making the season even more special to me.