Saturday, December 24
BENNINGTON — Each holiday season, the Silvers sing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and light the menorah with the same holiday enthusiasm.

The Bennington couple is among several in the area whose family members come from different religious backgrounds and beliefs, but still celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.

This year, the Jewish holiday starts at sundown on Sunday - which also happens to be when the Christian holiday takes place - and ends Jan. 1, New Year's Day.

Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Hanukkah, which is eight days long, commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after it was defiled by Antiochus of Syria.

Amelia Silver says she and her husband, David, who is Jewish, try to coordinate holiday celebrations so each is covered.

The first night of Hanukkah, for example, the Silvers hand out presents. On the other seven nights, the family lights the menorah's seven or nine candles, offers blessings and eats latkes, which are potato pancakes.

"We eat a lot of those," said Amelia, laughing.

In years past, when the couple lived in Shaftsbury, they'd gather with others and sing Christmas carols while David would play the songs on his trumpet. This year, however, everyone seems to have a cold, so caroling may be out of the question. But the Silvers still made time to pick up their Christmas tree earlier this week.


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Another couple, Susan and Daniel Robbins of North Bennington, also celebrate what's sometimes called "Christmukkah."

The family is typically more involved in activities for Hanukkah than Christmas, says Susan, a Christian. But she said celebrating both holidays isn't an issue.

"We do both," she said.

The Rev. James Preskenis of Sacred Heart Saint Frances de Sales, a Roman Catholic church, said the intersection of the holidays has to do with the movement of the moon and how each faith organizes its calendar. What further complicates things this year, said Preskenis, is that Christmas and Hanukkah fall on the holiest of days for Christians, Sunday.

"It's a little confusing," he said.

The two holidays are increasingly being melded on greeting cards aimed at the country's estimated 2.5 million families with both Jewish and Christian members.

MixedBlessing, a card company based in North Carolina, was among the first companies to come out with holiday cards intended for Jewish-Christian families about 15 years ago. The company sells about 200,000 cards a year.

Two other holidays that occasionally cross paths are Easter, which commemorates Christ's resurrection, and Passover, which commemorates the Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt.

The Christian and Jewish faiths, said Preskenis, already share the Old Testament, candle lighting and psalm singing, so this year's joint celebration of the winter holidays isn't that unusual. Plus, he said, there's a larger message.

"The idea is to celebrate in joyful spirit and giving and knowing the Lord is there for us," he said. "It's a household prayer."

Edmund Case, president of Interfaithfamily.com, said he researched the dates and found the start of Hanukkah has fallen on Christmas Day only four times in the last 100 years.

The number of American families led by one Jewish and one Christian parent has grown steadily in recent decades; the National Jewish Population Survey found that the intermarriage rate was about 47 percent from 1996-2001. Synagogues and Jewish community centers nationwide schedule seminars for interfaith families and publish tips on getting through the season.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


E-mail Chris Parker at cparker@benningtonbanner.com