Culture, Religion

December Without Drama

Happy Challadays cardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”
The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”
It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.” 
Happy Challadays began with encouragement from Alexis’s mom, but it took the collaboration with Chelsea Scudder to make them a reality. “I have zero artistic ability,” Alexis explained. “I came up with the ideas for the designs and she made them happen. The first one was Rudolph the Jewish Reindeer. Chelsea paints the artwork, and then we scan it [to create the product].”
Designs feature Hanukkah and Christmas symbols juxtaposed, such as a tray of Hanukkah cookies set out in front of a Christmas tree, or occasionally combined, as with the wreath decorated with dreidels. Although the cards are for sale, this is more of a passion project than a profit-seeking venture. “I love the idea of people finding cards they can send to their families,” Alexis said. “Usually you can only get something that says happy holidays with a red bird that is pretty generic and doesn’t address the actual holidays.” After the initial launch of the Hanukkah/Christmas line, the team has plans to expand. First up is addressing the “Passover Pickle,” April’s equivalent to the December Dilemma. Beyond that? “We’ve already gotten a request for a JuBu [Jewish/Buddhist] card. Some folks have inquired about Muslim/Christian cards,” Alexis said. “I’d love to do that. Chelsea and I are both divinity school graduates with interfaith backgrounds who have worked at interfaith organizations, so we’re really inspired by the idea of bringing everybody to the table. I like to feel that I’m represented in the cards that I buy.”
They haven’t received much criticism yet (although this post may change that?), save for some pointed observations from divinity school friends who noted that the Christmas imagery employed falls on the secular/cultural side of the holiday. You won’t see Jesus eating latkes on these cards, but that’s on purpose “It’s my feeling that these images really resonate with people who celebrate both, and they’re comfortable for people who celebrate both,” Alexis said.
Alexis recalled the best card she ever received: “My mom sent me a Hanukkah card once that had detachable candles – perforated paper, like something you get as a kid. The card stood up on its own as a menorah and you put the candles in night by night. Here it came from my Catholic mother, sending me the best Chanukah card I ever got, and I looked at it every day of the holiday – I actually put the candles in every night, which was super cute. I don’t know where she got it, and I’ve never seen it anywhere since.” Cards can create memories, and cards that match a specific audience or occasion carry the extra message to the recipient that they have been seen for who they are.
Happy Challaday cards launched at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in San Diego last week, and they are now available on Etsy and at fine holiday and craft fairs near you.

5 thoughts on “December Without Drama

  1. Last year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths.
    That’s only a “special exception” if Thanksgiving is a holiday of another faith.

  2. BZ, do you think the Jewish establishment doesn’t freak out about Halloween each year, particularly when it falls on Shabbat? Do you think the Puritans who originated Thanksgiving didn’t see it as a religious festival?

    1. I don’t think “the Jewish establishment” speaks with one voice on these questions. But putting that aside, views differ on whether Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas is a “holiday of another faith” or just a secular/American/etc. holiday, and that maps pretty consistently onto views about whether it’s appropriate to mix them with Jewish holidays – no special exceptions needed. So there’s “Thanksgiving has Christian roots, so it’s off limits for Jews”, and there’s “Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and totally appropriate for Jews to mix with Chanukah”, but NOT “Thanksgiving is Christian, but we’ll make an exception for just this one case”.

      1. (Though one could also hold the view that Halloween is ok for Jews AND inappropriate to mix with Shabbat — that’s been the mainstream view for thousands of years about, e.g., Tish’ah B’Av.)

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