December Decisions

by Julie Unger

December is a tricky month for many interfaith couples and their families. It evokes nostalgic childhood memories and family traditions that are deeply rooted; so you’re bound to have a little conflict. To respect both sides and to minimize conflict, it’s important to discuss the December holiday plans and practices early on in your relationship.

After about a year of dating, Matt and I decided that Thanksgiving would be spent with Matt’s family in Seattle, Washington, and Hanukkah/winter break would be spent with my folks in Safety Harbor, Florida. We seriously discussed this setup while we were taking a Yours, Mine, & Ours class through URJ Reform Jewish Outreach Boston. We felt it was important to spend Hanukkah with my family because we wanted to raise a Jewish family and not celebrate both holidays (Christmas and Hanukkah). It was also important to spend quality time with Matt’s family and conveniently Thanksgiving is a wonderful secular holiday to participate in.

Recently, I asked my mother in-law how she felt about us not celebrating Christmas and she said she didn’t mind, and actually felt blessed that we make the effort every year to spend time with them during Thanksgiving. She did, however, mention that she often wonders if Matt misses having a Christmas tree or receiving Christmas presents? Matt was ‘present’ during this conversation and he said he didn’t necessarily miss having a tree (they are messy and I am slightly allergic) and he still received presents from his parents every year (His mom keeps asking him for his ‘gift list’, and it doesn’t hurt that his birthday is a week before Christmas…). So, it’s not like we don’t participate in Christmas at all, we do. As a family we participate in Secret Santa every year. We just don’t participate in the religious part of Christmas. Even though we made a conscious decision to raise a Jewish family, it doesn’t mean we have to dismiss how Matt’s family celebrates Christmas; we respect his family’s traditions, in fact, it was these traditions that helped nurture the man I fell in love with almost 7 years ago.

The decision on where to travel during the holidays is easy, but it’s everything else in-between that gets a bit sticky. For 
example, are gifts from the non-Jewish partner’s family Christmas gifts or Hanukkah gifts? Do you have a Christmas tree, Hanukkah bush, or nothing? Does your significant other go to Midnight Mass with their family (a family tradition)? Better yet, do you go? Obviously, there’s a lot that needs to be discussed, and I recommend seriously and honestly discussing it. If something bothers you or makes you feel uncomfortable about your significant other’s holiday tradition, you have to talk about it. It’s imperative. If you don’t it’ll just fester and cause resentment… and who wants that during the “most wonderful time of the year”?

Julie Unger is a social media and marketing consultant for URJ Reform Jewish Outreach Boston and works a consultant helping Temple Israel of Boston to effectively engage families with young children.

Originally posted at