LONGMONT — The debate over which December holidays, let alone if any, should be acknowledged has infiltrated shopping malls, city parades and public school concerts across the country.
Now let’s look at another arena bogged down by the December Dilemma: the home.
Interfaith families, related through blood lines and marriage certificates, come together at the holidays with their religious traditions in tow.
Do we light the menorah — or Advent candles? Do we spin the dreidel or hang the stockings? And what about relatives who practice religions outside Judaism and Christianity?
“People call this the ‘December Dilemma,’ but it’s a dilemma only if we choose to make it,” said Deb Dusansky Kornfeld, director of the Boulder area Stepping Stones, an interfaith family program through the Boulder Jewish Community Center.
Almost 30 families have enrolled in Stepping Stones, now in its second year under Kornfeld, to explore Judaism as a faith choice.
“We have a lot of sweet God conversations, whatever their idea of God is,” said Stepping Stones children’s teacher Caroline Saliman of her students. “(Children) have a lot of questions, especially during the December holidays.”
While children meet to learn in a contextual environment with songs, games and foods, parents meet as a group with Kornfeld to discuss rituals and topics, such as the lighting of the hanukkiah and nixing Christmas envy.
“Share your tradition with those around you,” advised Kornfeld at a recent Stepping Stones meeting. “And then be willing to go to (other people’s) homes and share their traditions. You can be respectful without believing in the faith.”
This year, Dec. 25 marks the beginning of Hanukkah and Christmas day.
Tom and Linda Schutter of Louisville, who attend the Boulder Stepping Stones program, have found a way to honor both.
“We have Hanukkah at our house, and do Christmas at grandma’s,” said Tom Schutter, who was raised Protestant. His wife is Jewish.
Allison Harris of Longmont said her family decided two years ago to forgo the Christian holidays and focus on Jewish observances.
“We felt like we should do one or the other ... because I felt like (celebrating both) dilutes both holidays,” she said.
Her husband was raised Baptist, and she grew up without formal religious background.
The couple are raising their two daughters, ages 4 and 2, in the Jewish faith, but are also learning to embrace the beliefs of others.
“Our families, friends and neighbors celebrate Christmas, so the girls are familiar with it,” Harris said.
“When we go back to California this time of year to visit family, the girls receive presents — some Hanukkah, some Christmas — and do give presents to their cousins. But it is more about the holiday season than it is about Christmas.”
Kornfeld said these moments will create lasting memories and instill family values in children when the adults in their lives share and participate in holiday rituals, regardless of denomination.
“It encourages families to learn together. They’re walking the walk,” Kornfeld said.
Pam Hora of Longmont, a Catholic, said she and her husband, who was raised Methodist, used to discuss their differing religions more when choosing a church for Sunday service than around the December holidays.
Hora said her family tries to be mindful of others’ religious preferences during the holiday season.
“My husband has family who are Buddhists, so instead of sending Christmas cards, we do ‘Happy Holidays’ cards, just to respect where they’re coming from,” she said.
Kornfeld said multi-denominational families should not downplay one holiday ritual for the sake of another.
“The more people understand their own traditions, the more positive esteem they will have about sharing it with each other,” she said.
Catholic Elaina Bruce of Longmont, whose husband is a Methodist, said all faiths have something to bring to the table.
“Any time someone has beliefs forced upon them, it’s hard to take,” she said. “If you embrace the differences of each ... you will see the really good qualities each person brings from their own belief system.”
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at email@example.com.