Everyone grows up with some semblance of Christmas holiday tradition. Gift exchanges. Tacky, matching pajamas and an annual fireplace photo. Gracing neighbors with incredibly off-key caroling while consuming large quantities of (spiked) eggnog. Eating Chinese food on the 24th of December.
If you’re like me, you grew up with the latter — as part of our Jewish heritage.
No matter what dates the Festival of Lights fell each year, Christmas Eve meant takeout Chinese food and the Muppets version of “A Christmas Carol.”
On the 24th of every December, we would run up to the restaurant, the only open establishment amongst a plethora of dark storefronts, knowing full-well we would run into at least 1 friend. We would pick up our egg rolls and thank the sweet family who kept us fed every year for this event. Once home, we loaded up our plates, sat around in the family room, eating (or stabbing food) with chopsticks in front of a cozy fire, and we would celebrate our version of Christmas with the Muppets.
Once having reached adulthood, I realized it was up to me to either continue, completely nix, or adjust how I viewed and celebrated the holidays. And I’m going to get real for a minute. I love my heritage. I am proud of being raised with the Jewish culture. I still happily stuff my belly with latkes and spin the dreidel with my family. My mom taught me to make a mean matzo ball soup, and I can swear like a sailor in Yiddish.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy my friends growing up.
I longed for a Christmas tree, a few rainbow lights and a stocking.
I yearned to have that “Christmas morning feeling.” I mean, heck, I got 8 days of gift giving, which was pretty sweet, but there was just something about the spirit of Christmas that I longed for. Oy vey.
So Chrismukkah was born.
When I finally got the chance as an adult, to shape the way I viewed and celebrated the holiday season, I jumped all over it. It didn’t hurt that Seth, circa 2003, made the term “Chrismukkah” a national attention-getter (any other “OC” fans out there? No? Google it!).
The first couple years, I tiptoed. I bought a small tree, donned a “Hanukkah bush,” and put only blue and white lights on it (the traditional Hanukkah colors, if you will). My holiday decorations were very “tame” and sported things like snowflakes, snowmen and penguins. But as time went on, I started to dive in further. By the time I had children, my annual decorations were as traditional as a Pottery Barn holiday catalog — big trees, twinkly lights AND gold ornaments, tree skirts with matching stockings displaying our family initials, and large pillows that exclaimed things like “Eat, Drink and Be Merry.”
Let me tell you something. I LOVE CHRISTMAS.
Seriously, some years it looks like Santa himself threw up in my living room. I love being able to get into the American tradition and holiday spirit. My kids have met Santa, multiple times in multiple locations. I love matching Christmas pajamas and making Christmas cookies while trying to capture that perfect Christmas card photo. Have I painted you a detailed enough picture?
Good. Because we are going to come full circle now. My kids and I LOVE Christmas.
But we still love Hanukkah.
I want my boys to grow up “fitting in” and being able to relate to their Christmas celebrating friends. But I also want them to know their roots. And to understand their Jewish classmates who look forward to fried rice while others are out caroling. So we have our menorahs, our gelt, and our dreidels. We have an Elf on the Shelf, but we also talk about the Mensch on the Bench. They will be raised knowing they have both sets of heritage. That they can celebrate the Festival of Lights by spinning the dreidel and eating latkes. But they will still celebrate Christmas.
Some people tell me that it’s confusing. And that it isn’t fair for kids because they can’t discern the differences. And that I have to pick one religion. What they don’t see is that this IS my religion.
Chrismukkah may be a made-up holiday, but what it represents, represents my culture now.
My children will be raised with twice the theological knowledge. They have Hebrew names and they go to church. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Does your family have any un-traditional traditions? Share them with us!