What We Learned from Our 2006 December Holidays Survey, Part I

What follows is the text–minus the tables–from our report on our 2006 December Holidays Survey, which specifically looked at the 342 respondents (out of a population of 759) who told us they were in an interfaith relationship, had children and were raising the children Jewish. Tomorrow we will post the Conclusions section of our report:

Almost all of the respondents expect to participate in Hanukkah celebrations and Christmas celebrations this year: 99 percent expect to participate in Hanukkah celebrations while 89 percent plan to participate in Christmas celebrations.

The great majority of these respondents plan on doing multiple activities relating to the celebration of Hanukkah in their own home. Ninety-nine percent plan to light the menorah and 63 percent plan on telling the Hanukkah story.

Significantly lower percentages of respondents plan to do Christmas-related activities in their own home. Just over a majority (51 percent) plan on giving gifts, while 44 percent plan to decorate a Christmas tree and only 5 percent plan on telling the Christmas story. In the homes of relatives or friends, significant majorities plan on giving gifts (77 percent) and eating Christmas foods (62 percent), although again, very few (6 percent) plan on telling the Christmas story:

In addition, only 18 percent of these families plan on attending religious services for Christmas this year.

Of the 289 respondents who answered the question, “If you are raising your children as Jews, will you tell your non-Jewish relatives not to give Christmas presents to your children?”, 261, or 90 percent, said they would not tell their non-Jewish relatives not to give Christmas presents. Most of the respondents offered explanations for their decision; a significant majority of the responses cited respect for non-Jewish relatives as the reason for their decision:

Because we are an interfaith family and my son is being taught that he is being raised Jewish because it was a decision made by his father and I to do so. But he knows what his mother believes in and is taught to respect her beliefs and traditions.

While they are being raised as Jews, the non-Jews are part of their family too. If I am going to teach my children respect for others and for others’ views, I have to start with myself.

I want my children to learn about and respect other people’s faiths. If non-Jews want to give them gifts to show their love, that’s great.

Both family traditions are important and deserve to be honored.

A number of respondents also said they didn’t want to “make waves” or cause “turmoil”:

It is my husband’s wish not to “cause waves.”

Because it would hurt my parents’ and grandmother’s feelings.

It would be insulting to my relatives to tell them not to give the kids gifts.

Some in the Jewish community are concerned with religious “syncretism,” or blending of religious traditions. This year, 89 percent of the respondents who said they were participating in celebrations of both holidays said they would keep their holiday celebrations separate, while only 8 percent said they would be blended.

Following up on last year’s survey, we asked if respondents had heard about “Chrismukkah,” a holiday first mentioned on the Fox drama “The O.C.” that combines symbols and celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas into one holiday. There was an increased awareness of Chrismukkah since last year. Of the 581 survey respondents in interfaith relationships, 71 percent said they had heard of Chrismukkah, as compared to 57 percent last year, and only 29 percent had not, compared to 43 percent last year. Of those who had heard of Chrismukkah, 68 percent said they thought that Chrismukkah is a bad idea, while 10 percent think it is a good idea.

Among respondents in interfaith relationships raising their children Jewish, even greater numbers thought Chrismukkah was a bad idea (75 percent) and fewer (5 percent) thought it was a good idea.

While most of the respondents who plan to celebrate Hanukkah expect to enjoy their celebrations this year (87 percent), a little more than half (56 percent) said they expect to enjoy their participation in Christmas celebrations.

However, when it comes to children, more than three-quarters (76 percent) expect their children to enjoy Christmas celebrations, while 91 percent expect their children to enjoy Hanukkah celebrations. This would suggest that children being raised Jewish in interfaith families enjoy both holidays, while their parents are much more ambivalent about Christmas.

For interfaith families raising Jewish children, a primary way to resolve potential conflicts over the December holidays is to participate in celebrations of both holidays but treat Hanukkah as a religious holiday and Christmas as a secular one. Only 23 percent of respondents who are celebrating Hanukkah reported that their Hanukkah celebrations would be more secular than religious. In contrast, 79 percent of respondents who are participating in Christmas celebrations said their Christmas celebrations would be more secular than religious, a point verified by the very low number of respondents who plan on telling the Christmas story either at their home (5 percent) or the home of relatives and friends (6 percent).

Despite the evidence of ambivalence over Christmas, three-quarters of respondents feel that participating in Christmas celebrations will not affect their children’s Jewish identity. Many of the respondents said they’re comfortable with the distinctions they’ve made between the holidays.

…to our children, Christmas is just a fun day that has nothing to do with Jesus. We celebrate Shabbat once a week, so I don’t think one evening of opening Christmas gifts will undermine all of the other Jewish celebrations we have throughout the year.

Our children know they are Jews – you can participate in another culture’s celebrations without becoming their religion or taking their identity.

We approach Christmas as a secular tradition, not a religious observance. Christmas is like Halloween and Thanksgiving.

We don’t think that participating in Christmas celebrations affects our children’s Jewish identity because our kids celebrate being Jewish virtually every day.

However, some reported concerns over the impact of participating in Christmas celebrations on their children’s Jewish identity:

This is the major issue I am struggling over. [My children] are too young right now to ask questions.

My kids (9 & 6) are curious about Christmas religious celebrations. They usually ask to be able to go church on Christmas. I think the fact that they know their friends go to church on Christmas also plays a role in that.

It gives them a sort of dual consciousness, which I find a useful perspective in adulthood but may be difficult for a child to negotiate. My children attend a Jewish Day School where Christmas is never mentioned, so they catch on early that it’s not the best place to talk about their Christmas tree or stocking stuffers. Ironically, there are quite a few families at our school who celebrate both holidays to some extent. Unfortunately, when parents talk about it together we do so in whispers rather than in open dialogue.

…it raises the question of why we celebrate a holiday that is not “ours,” and in this way drives home the sense of being “other.” At very young ages, as children are learning what is “Jewish” and “Christian,” the sharing of traditions requires parent to educate our children, and to define our identity as Jews over and against Christian practices again and again.

A handful of respondents said that celebrating both holidays actually strengthens their children’s Jewish identity.

I think frankly it strengthens the Jewish identity … We teach our kids to honor and respect other people, which includes being interested in or at least supportive other others’ differences. … In fact, they love showing their Christian cousins how to light a menorah, and what it means and commemorates.

The clarity with which you express your own feelings and the openness of the atmosphere that you create in your household is what really teaches. Allowing others to express their feelings and ideas/not preaching is what made her comfortable with Judaism.

If anything, our participation in Christian holidays has made our Jewish identity stronger. With two Christians and two Jews in our household, our celebrations make for perfect settings for discussion about Jewish vs. Christian traditions, etc.

Of the 155 Jews in interfaith families who report having a Christmas tree in the home, slightly less than half of the Jews in interfaith families feel comfortable with having a Christmas tree in their home (48 percent) while slightly more than a quarter (28 percent) feel uncomfortable with having a Christmas tree in their home.

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