According to a 2020 Pew survey of Jewish Americans, 61% of those married in the last 10 years have been to a non-Jewish spouse. And that trend is only growing.1 The Hanukkah and Christmas season can put the year-round reality of differences between ourselves and our partners on even greater display.
How can we invite our non-Jewish partners to get involved in our Jewish heritage, partake in celebrating their culture, and not be overwhelmed by juggling it all? It’s a lot. But Hanukkah, which often falls before Christmas in the calendar, can be a great place to start a healthy conversation about a blended holiday season. We fully believe you can have your kugel and eat it too.
Here are eight quick tips for celebrating Hanukkah with your non-Jewish partner:
- Have a cooking party. Ask your partner to tackle a deep-fried recipe with you. Nothing brings you together like avoiding rogue oil splatter burns and talking about the miracle of the menorah.
- Incorporate the flavors of their heritage. What flavors and spices are commonly found in your partner’s cultural heritage? Work them into a creative dipping sauce for your latkes—after all, the beauty of fried potatoes is that they go great with almost anything. Try a coriander chutney, gochujang, a cheese fondue, or a sriracha or chipotle mayo. If you’re especially adept in the kitchen, you could try your hand at a sweet fusion by trying alternative sufganiyot fillings.
- Let them light a candle. With each passing night, we have more candles to light—why not invite your partner to light one? Hand off the shamash so they can be part of the ceremony. If you want to be extra cute, hold it together as you light the hanukkiah.
- Voice your gratitude. The traditional Hanukkah prayer, “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season,” is a great reminder to take inventory of the blessings and provision of God in our lives. It can also serve as a springboard for some words of affirmation—try expressing how thankful you are for the role your partner has played in this season of your life.
- Be moved by creativity. Hanukkah has inspired many Jewish artists to create beauty. Schedule a visit to a museum or exhibit featuring the work of a Jewish artist, attend events by local Jewish performers, or put on your finest loungewear to sit on the couch and read some poetry, like this collection curated by Rebekah Lowin.
- Get playful. Dreidel doesn’t just have to be for kids. Spin for candy, money, or dares. Invite your partner to contribute their own favorite game and invite friends for a game night with a Hanukkah flair.
- Join community events. Visiting your local Jewish community center or congregation for lighting events, services, or holiday parties can be a great way to meet other couples who are in the same boat as you. Attending these community events also exposes both of you to a wider Jewish experience, illustrates that it’s more than just “your” heritage, and takes the pressure off an impulse to be your partner’s tour guide to all things Jewish.
- Plan eight nights of gifts. Eight nights of Hanukkah are eight opportunities to mark the occasion. Plan to exchange something—whether it be small, wrapped gifts; thoughtful, written notes; or a surprise date night.
Including our partners in our Jewish holidays and traditions is a great opportunity for a deeply ingrained part of your identity to be seen, known, and appreciated. And in a time of rapidly rising antisemitism, it’s a great way to increase understanding, disarm any prejudices, and build support for our people. Plus, it’s a mitzvah: the practice of hachnasat orchim (gracious hospitality) can make our Hanukkah a little brighter.
- Travis Mitchell, “Jewish Americans in 2020,” Pew Research, accessed December 8, 2022.