Jewish forced to deal with the December Dilemma

By Glen Pickus, Temple Beth Or | Nov 28, 2012

For many Snohomish County Jews the holiday season means having to deal with the “December Dilemma.”

Even for those of us who have developed effective coping strategies, December still gives rise to a certain amount of uneasiness. For many of us as the Christmas decorations go up, so do our defenses.

For the uninitiated, the December Dilemma refers to the discomfort Jews can feel as the Christmas season nears when we may struggle to maintain our Jewish identity in the face of mainstream culture’s enormous emphasis on Christmas.

For interfaith families, where one spouse is Jewish and one is Christian, the December Dilemma can become magnified. Conflicts can abound and difficult questions demand answers.

Should we have a Christmas tree? What about lights around our house? Should we light Hanukkah candles? Should we do both or neither?

Temple Beth Or is offering a free December Dilemma class, open to members and non-members, to help answer these questions and more. The adult education class will be 10:15-11:45 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2, at our synagogue located at 3215 Lombard Ave. in Everett.

Because more than half of Temple Beth Or families are interfaith, the class will pay special attention to offering ways interfaith families can deal with the issue.

There are four common options for coping at this time of year.

The first is to celebrate both holidays. This strategy can only work if both partners are comfortable mixing the customs in their house.

Also, it ignores how extended family members may feel celebrating Hanukkah in the presence of Christmas decorations or opening presents under the Christmas tree with Hanukkah candles glowing in the window.

Option 2 is to celebrate Hanukkah at home and visit relatives for Christmas. Just as one would be happy with someone else on their birthday, a Jewish family can visit friends or relatives who are celebrating their holiday and be happy with them.

A third option is to try and blend Hanukkah and Christmas traditions. You see this in any store that sells holiday or party decorations, where Hanukkah-themed Christmas ornaments are not unusual.

Option 4 doesn’t really help interfaith families, but it is a common strategy for Jewish families to deal with the overwhelming saturation of Christmas.

A lot of American Jews joke about spending Christmas eating Chinese food and going to the movies.

(When I was growing up in Southern California my family frequently went to Disneyland on Christmas. Back then, crowds were really small on Christmas, although, I hear that’s not the case anymore.)

At the Temple Beth Or class you will hear how others deal with the December Dilemma and answer some common questions about how to handle Santa, gift giving, school functions and extended family members.

This year Hanukkah starts at sundown on Saturday, Dec. 8, lasting eight nights to Dec. 16.

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