Oh my, the December Dilemma can be confusing for children and families. I can remember when my children were younger, and they questioned why we do not have lights up and a Christmas tree in our home. This can be a difficult time for young children if the world outside their homes are inundated with Christmas songs, trees and other holiday related materials and Hanukkah is not as prevalent or marketed at all. It can be equally confusing for children who celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas at home, or for those who celebrate one holiday at their own home and another at their aunt’s or grandparent’s house.
Dr. Ron Wolfson states in his article, The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration, “The proximity of Hanukkah and Christmas is cause for consternation among many Jewish educators and families, provoking many different responses. Some elevate Hanukkah's importance to provide a counterbalance to Christmas, while others de-emphasize the Jewish festival to prevent it from becoming "the Jewish Christmas." Wolfson takes a moderate Jewish approach to the issue, acknowledging the beauty of Christmas while insisting it remain fully outside the Jewish experience.
As the Director of Early Childhood Education for The Temple – Tifereth Israel, I have conversations with parents annually about this dilemma. Here are a few of the discussion questions that I use when talking to parents:
- Describe how you feel during the month of December.
- What aspects of Hanukkah and Christmas attract you the most, and what aspects make you feel uncomfortable?
- What message are you hoping to send to your children about their Jewish identity when Judaism is practiced in your home? What are your concerns when deciding to include other (non-Jewish) traditions during your December celebrations?
- What traditions do you include for Hanukkah celebrations? What are your concerns when deciding to include other (non-Jewish) traditions during your December celebrations?
In supporting families with young children in developing and combining traditions during the December celebrations, I have also learned from them. In addition to the fulfilling the Mitzvot of putting your Menorah in the window and hanging up Hanukkah decorations, families have shared the following ideas regarding how they celebrate Hanukkah alongside or in combination with Christmas (or other December holidays):
- Drive around to look at the beautiful Christmas lights, and discuss how many different ways that families decorate to celebrate their holidays. (One family shared that they made certificates that they passed out to the prettiest and the most colorful decorations in their neighborhood.)
- Play Hanukkah music at home and in the car (don’t forget to use PJ Radio)
- Make Hanukkah cookies and give gift baskets to friends and neighbors, regardless of what holiday they may celebrate.
- Host a family for a dreidel game night. If they’ve never played dreidel before, this is your chance to show them how you celebrate. Perhaps you might learn something about their celebrations also.
Consider the resources for background information for Hanukkah (and other holidays), as well as wonderful ideas for celebrating Hanukkah for families with young children: