This time of year always brings a note of tension from my family. You see, I was raised Catholic, did my time at Catholic schools, went away to college “and changed” as my mother put it. Net, net, after years of soul searching, studying other religions and loads of reading, I converted to Judaism. I’ll spare you the details because I know my family will have agita if I write them in a public forum. Plus, I’m the youngest, the one who hates that I can fall prey to damn birth order pressure.
Leading me to Chrismakkuh . . . that is what I call my household’s seasonal celebration. I have managed to fuse some traditional Christmas traditions with Jewish ritual while still holding true to my Jewish identity. Now that I have a small daughter, it is even more important to me that she understands we have one holiday and her aunt (i.e. my family) has another.
As far as decorations are concerned, I can’t let go of the tradition of blinking lights. The lights get me through the winter doldrums. I have always loved lights and don’t associate them with a religion. They blink, they cheer, they dazzle. I wish they could be up year round. Now that Hanukkah has begun, our menorah candles tantalize my child the entire time they burn. So much so that I cannot leave the room it is in for one second. She is determined to blow out the candles thinking they are associated with a birthday. I gave her a plush menorah hoping it would keep her away from the real candles but she’s no fool.
When it comes to the other trappings of the season, my daughter isn’t into Santa all that much. I have let her watch age appropriate holiday shows but she really didn’t care for many. Only 3 grabbed her attention: Shrek the Halls (she loves her some monsters), Frosty the Snowman and The Wonder Pets Nutcracker (for those of you who don’t watch Nickelodeon daily – it’s a toddler show). I allow a fiber optic 3 foot tree to be on a table just to amuse her with its colors. She has a stocking that I embroidered when I was 12 but didn’t get finished until last week that we’ll use when she’s older. We have both Hanukkah and holiday hand towels out in the kitchen and bathroom. I have always gravitated to teddy bear and kitty decorations and had these towels since college. For the most part, our house is pretty much Hanukkah central. We get our tree fix at my sister’s house which has been made child friendly for prying 2 year old curiosity (meaning – no glass ornaments).
Food is the best part of sharing in both holidays. I fried up some amazing sweet potato latkes on Sunday night and Christmas day we will eat our traditional feast of lasagna (yep, I’m not kosher but don’t do pork products at all), wedding soup and turkey. I hope to light the menorah on Christmas night at my sister’s house but that could be a battle in the making. I’ll take the family temperature before being so bold to want to practice my faith there (you know the saying about family).
And isn’t family what this holiday season is about? It’s about coming together, showing your affection for one another, eating, drinking and good cheer. Whether you are Christian, Jewish or celebrate the winter solstice, this is the season to respect one another, our beliefs and traditions. That is why I will teach my child about all three major religions (and then some when age appropriate) in the hope of raising a respectful child for all religions but who has a concrete hold in her own religious identity. In the words of Kenny Ellis from Hanukkah Swings - T’was the Night Before Hanukkah, A Gut Yontif to all, and to all a good night!