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Growing up in an interfaith home, winter vacation was a lot of fun. I felt like I had the best of both worlds. But I have rarely seen households like mine. In my church day school, I learned very quickly not to say that I was going to Christmas dinner or that I had a stocking full of goodies on Christmas Day. I remember when I read Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret, with her interfaith family, it was like, Whoa, someone in a book like this! But I don’t remember many other books that did this, and certainly no picture books or children’s books.
At school, no one else came from an interfaith home. My friends outside of school weren’t interfaith either. I literally didn’t know anyone else who had a family that went to one side of the family for Hanukkah dinner and the other side of the family for Christmas dinner. They went to one or the other, and that’s it. And the books, which I always turned to for company, rarely had these stories.
In 2016, a Pew Research Center study found that one in five adults in the United States grew up in interfaith homes (these religions could be any religion). If this number is for adults, I have to wonder what the number is for children (I couldn’t find recent stats). Given such a large number, I think there might be a wave of interfaith holiday books for new generations.
When I had my son, since his extended family is interfaith, I wanted to introduce him to all kinds of holiday books, not just books about the holidays we celebrate. When we go to the library, they have a whole aisle of vacation picture books, and they’re grouped by vacation, with little photo stickers on the back for easy navigation. It is organized in chronological order, for the most part (not all holidays follow the same calendar, so the exact dates may vary). Although we read on all the holidays, I wanted to get him some mixed Christmas and Hanukkah books. Nowadays you would think that there would be a lot of “mixed vacation” picture books. After all, many of us have interfaith / cultural families, don’t we?
Well… sort of? I’ll say this: There are more diverse holiday books than when I was a kid. But there was also less of it than I expected.
What we found on the shelves
One book we particularly liked was Hanukkah Surprise by Nonna. It is about a little girl who visits her Italian grandmother, who does not celebrate Hanukkah. My son really identified with this because he also has a Nonna. There aren’t many spaces where you can combine being Italian and Jewish, but this book was one of them.
Another that the librarians gave me when I asked about interfaith books was Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein, a book about a little girl who wants to celebrate Christmas even though her family is Jewish. So no quite a book about an interfaith family, but it both contains the holidays and is a good start to the conversation about wanting to celebrate the holidays and why we celebrate what we do.
I loved Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, where the little girl says “I am a mixture of two traditions”. I loved the weaving of festivals and traditions, and felt like this book would have been the perfect book for me as a kid, especially since it matched my own family traditions.
In Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas, Sadie celebrates Hanukkah, but her mother is Indian and her father is Jewish, so her family combines traditions and customs for their vacation. This is a great reminder that religions are not a monolith and should not make assumptions about how they celebrate or what they celebrate.
There are other books that are not just for the winter holiday season, but have themes of multicultural Jewish homes, like Hanukkah Moon (Latinx Jews), Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom (Sephardic Jews, with words ladinos introduced in the book), and Jalapeño Bagels (a boy with a Mexican mother and a Jewish father). Books like these help combat the ashkenomativity and homogeneity of most Jewish books, and we need more.
With the winter holidays approaching before we know it, finding books that have both Christmas and Chanukah still isn’t always easy. It looks like an untapped market, and I hope it grows in the years to come. For those of us with interfaith families, this often translates into piles of Christmas books and piles of Hanukkah books, which are not a real mirror for those who might be celebrating or honoring both.
Did you find any interfaith / cultural holiday books?
For a great list of inclusive vacation reads, check out this article, and if you’re looking for a list of 50 must-have vacation books, look no further!