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'Chrismukkah': Interfaith Families Negotiate A Christmas-Hanukkah Combination


It's Christmas Eve, and tonight is also the start of Hanukkah. For interfaith families, this intersection can require a little negotiation. Deena Prichep reports.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Eighteen-month-old Simon is spending tonight playing in front of the Christmas tree at his grandmother's in Seattle...


PRICHEP: ...While eating potato pancakes.


MARISA ROBERTSON-TEXTOR: Yeah? Are you excited for your first latke this year?

ADAM GOLDSTEIN: She's the one who makes the latkes. Now I'm the one that watches Simon while she does the cooking.

PRICHEP: Adam Goldstein and his wife, Marisa Robertson-Textor, host what they call a Chrismukkah (ph) party every year. Robertson-Textor, a food writer, started the tradition even before the holidays overlapped, even before she married her Jewish husband.

ROBERTSON-TEXTOR: The food is just so freaking good, right? If you take the latke, you throw in the jelly donuts and then you add some nice chocolate peppermint bar cookies and possibly a smoked, roasted ham, I think you have the makings of a really nice party.

PRICHEP: Marisa and Adam are comfortable combining delicious traditions. But for some interfaith families, there's a bit more tension.

SAMIRA MEHTA: People will call things cultural when they want to make a case for combining them, and they will call them religious when they want to make a case for keeping them separate.

PRICHEP: Samira Mehta teaches religion at Albright College in Pennsylvania. She says half a century ago, 1 in 10 Jews was in an interfaith marriage. The conventional wisdom was to raise children exclusively with one religion. Now around half of Jews are married to non-Jews. And their homes, like society itself, have become more multicultural. But Mehta says, there are sticking points.

MEHTA: Oh, the tree is so complicated. For a lot of American Jews, your home can be a sanctuary where you can escape from Christmas, and it can be very hard to put Christmas into the personal space.

PRICHEP: And for many Jews - even those married to Christians - having a Jewish home is important.

DANYA SHULTS: Like, if someone looks in our window and sees that we have a Christmas tree, they're not going to know I'm Jewish.

PRICHEP: Danya Shults went to a Jewish day school, Jewish summer camp and runs what she calls a Jew-ish (ph) lifestyle website. She says her Christian husband is on board with a Jewish home - but he still wanted a tree.

SHULTS: So I said, OK. I'll try it. And so we decided to get a little tree. I think that year we did not tell my parents.

PRICHEP: Shults has since made peace with the tree. And tonight, before they celebrate Christmas in California with her in-laws, they'll light the menorah with their family back East via video chat. And then, Shults might even go to church. She's still thinking it through.

SHULTS: One of the most beautiful benefits of marrying someone not Jewish is that I'm forced to answer these questions.

PRICHEP: And for a lot of people, like Adam Goldstein, father of little Simon, it's OK if those answers look different than you might expect.

GOLDSTEIN: Part of life and the world is accepting contradictions and tensions. And so, you know, that just will be one of them that he'll be a young Jewish boy growing up in a household with a Christmas tree.

PRICHEP: And Goldstein will even join his wife Marisa in spinning some of her childhood Christmas records.

GOLDSTEIN: "White Christmas" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" actually do, to my ear, carry with them a kind of Jewish sensibility, you know, Irving Berlin tunes that were written about experience of diaspora and loss of home, coming together with family.

PRICHEP: For Goldstein, having a Jewish family is important. And when he comes together with his non-Jewish in-laws tonight around the tree, Goldstein knows what he'll find under it. He asked for a menorah.

For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep.


JAY LEVY: (Singing in Yiddish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deena Prichep