Holiday celebrations are multiplied
for many interfaith families.
Shari S. Cohen I Special to the Jewish News
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December 19 • 2013
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As intermarriage has
become more prevalent, dual
celebrations of Chanukah
and Christmas have become
more common. The Pew sur-
vey found that 71 percent of
interfaith families had Christmas
trees in their homes last year. However,
a recent survey by InterfaithFamily.com
found that among interfaith families whose
children are being raised as Jews, the pro-
portion of households with a Christmas
tree is 59 percent. (InterfaithFamily.com
is a nonprofit organization that "supports
interfaith families exploring Jewish life)
The InterfaithFamily.com survey, which
queried 757 families, also found that 83
percent of interfaith couples who celebrate
Christmas keep these celebrations separate
from their Chanukah celebrations, and
they do not believe that celebrating both
holidays compromises their children's
"Interfaith couples raising Jewish
children and participating in Christmas
continues to be common:' said Edmund
Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com . "These
families see their Christmas celebrations
as secular in nature and not confusing to
their children's Jewish identity."
Of course, the real test will occur when
these children reach adulthood and decide
on their religious identity and practice.
Best Of Both
Families who observe Chanukah also
may participate in Christmas celebrations
out of respect or a sense of fairness to the
Christian spouse and to facilitate good rela-
tionships with Christian family members.
Children also enjoy the extra presents.
Dan Fisher of Ann Arbor grew up
in Beverly Hills, had his bar mitzvah at
Temple Beth Jacob in Pontiac and observed
only Jewish holidays as a child. For Dan
and his wife, Shari, who was raised as a
Protestant in Caseville, Chanukah and
Christmas celebrations are much more
"They let us do what they do and vice
versa. It's a source of great fun," he said.
The family lights a menorah every night,
gives gifts and has latkes. Shari frequently
attended services at the Reform temple in
Washington, D.C., where their two chil-
dren, Steven and Abby, now college age,
. • .
two holiday trees in separate rooms of their
•**•,, . house —one decorated with Chanukah-
•• related items and one with Christmas
'• ornaments. Both of their families
are accepting of their parallel cele-
brations, according to Bouyounan.
Book Details Practices
41,0ft • Rabbi Woll is married to a Catholic,
Jon M. Sweeney, and they are raising
•'. their 21/2-year old daughter, Sima, as a
..... ... •
Jew, maintaining Jewish practices in their
home. "We will tell her that Daddy has this
had bar and bat mitzvahs.
other background with another set of prac-
On Christmas, they are "hunkered down tices. Our assumption is that our daughter
as a family, playing games and exchanging
will know a lot," she said.
gifts," she said. They have a Christmas tree.
Their Chanukah celebrations included
"Dan buys the tree and I make the latkes."
multiple events at the Ann Arbor
They have taken their two children to
Reconstructionist Congregation. Because
church once or twice when visiting Shari's
their families live in other states and
parents, but both view Christmas celebra-
don't typically gather at this time of year,
tions as more of a family tradition than a
there are no issues regarding Chanukah
or Christmas celebrations with them. On
Melissa Bouyounan (formerly
Christmas, she expects they will go to a
Silverman) grew up in Oak Park and
movie and have dinner out, like many
attended Temple Israel in West Bloomfield,
other Jewish families.
where she had a bat mitzvah. Her hus-
Woll and her husband are co-authors of
band, Peter, is a Marronite Catholic, born
the recently published Mixed-Up Love —
in Lebanon. They live in Lake Orion. She
Relationships, Family, and Religious Identity
says neither of them was very religiously
in the 21st Century (Jericho Books), an
observant and they decided early on to
account of their own unusual relationship
expose their two children to both Jewish
and perspective on religion, with guidance
and Christian traditions.
for other interfaith couples.
"We're not huge on organized religion
Their book chapter titled the "December
and not everyone is confined to a box:'
Dilemma" states: "It can easily feel like con-
Melissa Bouyounan said. Christmas
sumerism has become the real December
is "mostly a home celebration making
holiday, regardless of your tradition or
gingerbread houses or cookies with his
origin" The authors urge a return to a sim-
mom, with dinner on Christmas Eve. For
pler, more authentic Chanukah "without
the trappings of Christmas" and Christmas
Chanukah, we lit candles, had presents,
celebrations that are focused more on
dreidels and gelt," she explained.
reflection, faith and acts of kindness.
One unusual holiday practice is their
Interfaith couple Dan and Shari Fisher of Ann Arbor share Chanukah and
Christmas as "family traditions." In photos from years ago, their children
Steven and Abby light Chanukah candles and Steven sits on Santa's lap.