Families balance Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 | 1:35 p.m. CST; updated 5:03 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Debbie Shenker lights candles for the fourth day of Hanukkah. The Shenkers' extended family celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.

COLUMBIA – This year Hanukkah coincides with Christmas, creating what is sometimes called the “December dilemma."

Thursday is the fifth day of Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration that began Dec. 21 and ends Dec. 29.

Mandy Llewellyn, whose family was raised in both Christian and Jewish households, celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas. Today, she will be juggling two celebrations.

“Since Hanukkah is on different days every single year, we’re just rolling with the punches," she said. "This year we’ll wake up on Christmas and open presents, have a Christmas dinner in the afternoon and then at sundown celebrate Hanukkah.”

Hanukkah follows the Jewish calendar, which is both lunar and solar, so it falls on different dates every year.

Mandy and her husband, Dave, are raising their children Madison, 4, and Stewart, 2, as Christians. But Mandy's mother, Debbie Shenker, re-married a Jewish man, converted and raised her younger children Rachel, 14, and Benjamin, 10, in the Jewish faith. Now, the entire family celebrates both holidays.

Richard and Robin Reuben of Columbia also celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. Richard is Jewish, and Robin is Methodist.

They chose to raise their two sons Patrick, 11, and Daniel, 9, as Jewish. In the past, the family has recognized the two holidays, but this year they are just celebrating Hanukkah.

Usually the family celebrates Hanukkah at home and flies to Atlanta to celebrate Christmas with Robin’s mother and sisters. This year they spent Thanksgiving in Atlanta and will be in Columbia this year for Hanukkah.

“Since our children have a strong Jewish identity, we wanted to play up Hanukkah, but they are getting stockings from Santa,” Robin said.

Most years, there is enough time between each holiday to recognize them individually, but every few years they overlap. The last time this happened was in 2005 when Hanukkah began at nightfall on Christmas Day. Next year Hanukkah will begin Dec. 11.

Other Jewish families in Columbia's Congregation Beth Shalom who may not be a part of an interfaith family still join in the Christmas celebration with a tradition started 10 years ago by Judy Feintuch, the rabbi's wife.

On Christmas Eve, members of the synagogue go to the First Baptist Church at 1112 E. Broadway to give cookies and hot cider to those attending midnight services.

It began as a way to say thank you when Beth Shalom met at the Hillel House on campus and borrowed the First Baptist Church to accommodate attendance on High Holy Days. The temple now has a new building on West Green Meadows Road, but the tradition with First Baptist continues.

Mandy Llewellyn believes the holidays should be about the traditions surrounding the holiday season and being able celebrate different beliefs. She said Congregation Beth Shalom is a contemporary synagogue with members who are respectful of other beliefs, open to celebrating other traditions and always inviting others to the holiday table.

“It may be a bit cliché, but it really is like being together in one big family,” she said.

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