Navigating Winter Holiday Picture Books When You Have an Interfaith Family

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

Growing up in an interfaith household, the winter holidays were very fun. I felt like I had the best of both worlds. But I rarely saw households like mine. At my religious day school, I learned very quickly not to say that I went to Christmas dinner or had a stocking filled with 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 not any picture books or children’s books.

At school, no one else came from an interfaith household. My friends outside school were also not interfaith. I literally knew no one else who had a family who 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 was it. And books, which I always turned to for companionship, rarely had those stories.  

In 2016, a Pew Research Center study found that one in five adults in the U.S. were raised in interfaith households (these religions could be any religions). If that number is for adults, I have to wonder what the number is for children (I couldn’t find a recent stat). Given such a significant number, I would 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 expose him to all sorts of holiday books, not just the books about holidays we celebrate. When we go to the library, they have a whole aisle of holiday picture books, and they’re grouped by holiday, with little picture stickers on the spine for easy browsing. It’s arranged chronologically, for the most part (not all holidays follow the same calendar, so exact dates can vary). Though we read about all holidays, I wanted to get some blended Christmas-Hanukkah books for him. In this day and age, you’d think there’d be a lot of “mixed holiday” picture books. After all, many of us have families who are interfaith/cultural, right?

Well…sort of? I will say this: there are more diverse holiday books than when I was a kid. But there were also less than I expected.

What We Found On the Shelves

cover of Nonna's Hanukkah Surprise

One book that we especially loved was Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise. It’s about a little girl who visits her Italian grandmother, who doesn’t celebrate Hanukkah. My son really identified with this because he has a Nonna, too. There aren’t a lot of spaces where one can combine being Italian and Jewish, but this book was one of them.

Another one 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 not quite a book about an interfaith family, but it does have both holidays in it and is a good conversation starter about wanting to celebrate holidays and why we celebrate what we do.

I did love Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, where the little girl says “I am a mix of two traditions.” I loved the weaving of both holidays and traditions, and felt like this would have been the perfect book for me as a child, especially since it lined up with my own family traditions.

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas_Pamela Ehrenberg

In Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas, Sadie celebrates Hanukkah, but her mom is Indian and her father is Jewish, so her family combines traditions and customs for their holidays. It’s a great reminder that religions aren’t a monolith and not to make assumptions about how or what they celebrate.

There are other books that aren’t 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 Ladino words introduced in the book), and Jalapeño Bagels (a boy with a Mexican mother and Jewish father). Books like these particular ones help push against the Ashkenormativity and homogeneity of most Jewish books, and we need more of that.

With the winter holidays coming up before we know it, finding books that have both Christmas and Hanukkah is still not always easy. This feels like an untapped market, and one that I hope expands in years to come. For those of us with interfaith families, this often results in piles of Christmas books and piles of Hanukkah books — neither of which provide a true mirror for those who might celebrate or honor both.

Have you found interfaith/cultural holiday books?

For a great list of inclusive holiday reads, check out this post, and if you’re looking for a list of 50 must-read books about the holidays, look no further!