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"Chrismukkah" is a Bad Idea

December 2004

Sorry to be a "grinch" or a "scrooge," but "Chrismukkah" is a bad idea.

First depicted last December on the hit Fox TV show "The O.C.," picked up by entrepreneurs selling "Chrismukkah" greeting cards, and featured again on "The O.C." last week, "Chrismukkah" has been all the rage this December, with media coverage in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, NPR and TV morning talk shows.

The concept of a holiday that combines Hanukkah and Christmas is meant to be light-hearted. But below the humorous surface are serious issues of integrity and respect.

Hanukkah and Christmas are different holidays. Ironically, Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish people's fight to maintain its religious traditions in the face of an oppressive majority. Christmas, of course, remembers the birth of Jesus.

Over time, holidays take on additional and different meanings. Gift giving became part of Hanukkah celebrations in this country largely in competition with Christmas. For some, Christmas is more important as a family-centered celebration of values than for any religious significance. But each holiday has a long history and distinct traditions. Combining them undermines and obliterates the integrity of each.

Jews in the United States enjoy the great good fortune of living in a majority culture that, instead of oppressing religious and ethnic minorities, values multi-culturalism. But multi-culturalism by definition means respecting and celebrating distinct traditions--not blending them together.

"Chrismukkah" will never displace Christmas as a national holiday. From a Christian perspective, "Chrismukkah" may not appear to be problematic.

But for those who care about maintaining Jewish traditions, it is. And for Jewish-Christian interfaith couples and families, it's even more of an issue.

There are only 5.2 million Jews in the United States today. Almost half of Jews who marry today are marrying people who are not Jewish. Of intermarried couples, only 33% say they are raising their children as Jews, and for those who care about maintaining Jewish traditions, it's extremely important to support those couples and increase their number.

Most interfaith couples who decide to raise their children in one religion realize that they cannot do so without honoring and respecting the ethnic and religious traditions of both parents. In the recent December Dilemma Survey by InterfaithFamily.com, where 80% of the respondents were raising their children as Jews, 80% participated in both Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations, and 53% had a Christmas tree in their home. These couples resolve potential conflicts by treating Hanukkah, but not Christmas, as a religious holiday--75% of the survey respondents reported that their Christmas celebrations were more secular than religious.

Many survey respondents reported that their children's Jewish identity was not weakened by their participation in Christmas celebrations, but in fact was strengthened. One said, "we have tried to teach our son respect for others' holidays and traditions, while maintaining our own Jewish traditions, not as superior to anyone else's, but rather our own, and therefore special to us."

In contrast, "Chrismukkah," as the antithesis of maintaining special traditions, could only confuse children being raised with one religious identity in an interfaith family.

Most importantly, more than two-thirds of the survey respondents said they kept their celebrations separate, instead of blending them. For interfaith couples raising their children with one religious identity, honoring and respecting the distinctive nature of the holidays is the way to go--not mushing them into one.

Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods.
Edmund Case

Edmund Case, the founder and CEO of InterfaithFamily.com, Inc. and co-editor of The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001), frequently writes on intermarriage issues. Recent pieces include "Can the Jewish Community Encourage In-marriage AND Welcome Interfaith Families?," from a presentation at the November 2010 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America; "The Missing 'Mazel Tov'," an August 2010 op-ed in The Forward; and "Chelsea Clinton's Interfaith Marriage: What Comes Next?," an August 2010 blog post on The Huffington Post.

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