Each December, I tingle in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season. I savor it all…the songs, the sentiment, the TV specials, the homey smells of cinnamon, apple cider, and cookies, and the spirit of tzedakah.
I’m Jewish, born and raised in New York, married to a South African man who is the son of an Evangelist minister.
In our family, we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.
I recall with fondness the Hanukkahs of my youth, reciting the blessings as we lit the menorah, and participating in my family’s rather competitive games of spin the dreidel. My dad’s gloating kvelling when he landed on Gimmel would assume biblical proportions.
And so, my husband and I have decided to keep these Hanukkah traditions of my childhood.
We will celebrate the first night of Hanukkah dinner at my parent’s home, where we’ll devour my mom’s crispy potato latkes garnished with applesauce, and my daughter will consume copious quantities of chocolate gelt. We’ll play dreidel, sing songs, and exchange presents. Later on, I’ll cuddle with my daughter and read to her the books about Hanukkah that we received from the PJ library.
But we have also been busy creating family traditions to celebrate Christmas.
We decorate our small electric tree with ornaments, including the soft plushy ones that I insisted on when my daughter started to crawl, because I was terrified that she’d break–or God forbid eat–anything glass or plastic. My daughter’s name is Crystal, so this year we will start a new family tradition of buying one beautiful crystal ornament a year to hang high on the tree. And though we don’t dine on the traditional leg of lamb for Christmas dinner that my husband remembers from his childhood, we do make it a point to cook a steak or go out for a nice meal. Also–much to my daughter’s delight, my husband has embraced the purely American ritual of putting out a small plate of milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.
Now about Santa…in theory I don’t have a problem with him, and think it’s a cute idea to write him a letter, but so far my daughter has refused to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall, and I really don’t blame her. (Why is it that this is the one time of year it’s ok to encourage our children to sit on strange men’s laps?)
As for me, I admit that I have always had a warm feeling for Christmas. In my opinion, Jesus was a very devout and brilliant Jewish man. So why not celebrate his birth?
When it comes to tzedakah, my husband and I believe in that tenet always, and especially during the holidays when people can feel their lowest while surrounded by the abundance of others. To that end, my daughter will select various toys from her trove to donate to charity.
Above all, we fervently hope that the family rituals we have created for both Hanukkah and Christmas–and the soothing memories of these times of warmth, food, music, and ceremony–will find a permanent place in our daughter’s heart, imbuing her with the strength of spirit needed to traverse living in a multi-cultural world.