Monday, December 16, 2013

This is NOT a Hanukkah Bush: 8 Tips for a Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas

In our family, the girls and I are Jewish. Tom is agnostic. I grew up with Hanukkah gelt, latkes and eight nights of small gifts. Tom grew up with a Christmas tree, Christmas stockings and one glorious morning of gifts. Together, we have created holiday celebrations that honor our distinct childhoods and give Kate and Mary fun traditions and happy memories -- something their families can build on in the future.

If you have a mixed-traditions family, what works for us could work for you!
  1. Celebrate the similarities. Hanukkah and Christmas, as we observe them, are holidays of light and happiness, time to gather with the people we love. Put the iPads and phones away for a bit and focus on each other. Play a board game. Talk. Look at old holiday photos. Breathe.  
  2. Don't mush the holidays together. We have a Hanukkah menorah and a Christmas tree. We do not have a Hanukkah bush. That would offend my sensibilities. I realize my sensibilities might not make sense to you. I'm good with that. Leading us to ... 
  3. Accept that your holiday celebration will offend people. I'm waiting to see if my rabbi friends comment here or just let me know face-to-face how "wrong" I am and why a Christmas tree has no place in a Jewish home. Along the same lines, the fact that Tom and I have taken Christ out of Christmas undoubtedly and understandably irritates some Christian friends. That's the way it is and that's just fine.
  4. Let the children have a say. Early on, the girls decided they preferred to celebrate Hanukkah as a religious holiday and get all their gifts on Christmas. In effect, this has allowed us to celebrate Hanukkah in a far more traditional, non-American way. And it really boosts the gift count under the tree. 
  5. Enjoy the best of both worlds. Let's take food as an example. Latkes? Scrumptious. Big plates of Christmas cookies? Bring on the sprinkles! And we bake Christmas goodies for the neighbors. Tradition!
  6. Make your own traditions. We open gifts from Aunt Lynn and Uncle Paul on Christmas Eve. Then, the girls and I sleep in the living room, in hopes of catching Santa Claus when he comes down the chimney. This started when the girls were tiny. They still humor me with a Christmas Eve slumber party. And Santa Claus does a fabulous job of sneaking in with the big gift of the season.
  7. Decorate with abandon. You might choose non-denominational decorations -- snowflakes and snowmen, for example. At our house, the Santa Claus collection grows every year. I found my favorite dreidel in Israel -- instead of the traditional Hebrew letters signifying, "A great miracle happened there," the letters on this dreidel stand for, "A great miracle happened here."
  8. See the miracle happening here. When family and friends stop their crazy busy lives to share laughter and food; to create memories and traditions; to simply gather together and be -- this is a miracle. This is something to celebrate. 
Whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate, I wish you all the love and light of the season. And here's to a happy, healthy new year!

P.S. Yes. I did eight tips for the eight nights of Hanukkah. I didn't have enough to say for the 12 days of Christmas.

Every ornament tells a story.
"Nes gadol haya po."
A great miracle happened here!
Hey, Santa! I've been good this year. Despite the rumors ...


CJ Kennedy said...

Wise words.

Anonymous said...

I love you!! This is the best holiday blog I hsve read in a while :)

samethinggirl said...

Wisdom and grace. :)

veredlh said...

I'm a rabbi. I'm a friend. I love that Hanukkah is the more religious holiday for you. And I really am not sad we never got to help you decorate the tree. Really I'm not. Seriously, to me this points to the individuality of each family and the importance of intentionally and consciously choosing what and how you celebrate. The "wrong" for me is willy-nilly doing-whatever just-because and losing site of the bigger impact our choices make.