Hanukkah, with a little Christmas Sprinkled on Top

Hanukkah, with a little Christmas Sprinkled on Top | Houston Moms Blog

When I think of Hanukkah, I am automatically transported back to my childhood, because as with most Jewish children, it was by far my favorite holiday. Special memories are conjured up, such as the smell of latkes {fried potato pancakes} filling up the house…sometimes that scent would last for days! I remember feeling giddy with excitement, as I stared at the gifts that my mom would place on the floor beneath the menorah {nine-branched candelabrum lit each night of Hanukkah}. My brothers and I would receive one gift per night, for eight nights, after lighting the candles and reciting prayers. I recall playing dreidel {a traditional Hanukkah game} with my siblings, while my dad would put Hanukkah music on in the background. Everything about Hanukkah was happy, hopeful and bright.

Although many people equate Hanukkah to “Christmas for the Jews,” it is actually considered to be one the least significant holidays in the Jewish faith, and it primarily focuses on the children. Hanukkah is the festival of light, commemorating a miracle that occurred during an ancient war between the Macabees and the Greeks. The Macabees only had enough oil to burn a candle for one night, but somehow that minuscule amount of oil kept their candle lit for eight nights. This called for a celebration, which we continue to this day. As with many religious holidays, traditions developed, people found ways to commercialize it, and now we have this glamorous holiday that coincidentally takes place around Christmas-time and the Jewish children receive gifts, just like their Christian peers.

Hanukkah, with a little Christmas Sprinkled on Top | Houston Moms Blog

Since Hanukkah always comes around Christmas-time, and because my family lived in a predominantly Christian area when I was growing up, we often felt left out and different. I loved Hanukkah, but I didn’t understand why we didn’t have a tree decorated with beautiful lights, or why we couldn’t write letters to Santa asking for our heart’s desires. My Jewish mom made the executive decision to add a few Christmas traditions into our home – secular customs that she believed wouldn’t harm our personal faith. And so, each year, she would hang stockings up on the mantel of the fireplace, and fill it with little toys and treats. On Christmas, we would wake up and see what was inside our stockings. We would drink egg nog and eat cookies, candy canes, and red apples for breakfast. My dad would put Christmas music on, light the fire {something you actually do in Denver, in the winter}, and we would spend the day together as a family.

Many Jewish people might look upon these customs with scorn, because it lessens the significance of being Jewish, and “gives in” to peer pressure by assimilating, or trying to be like everyone else. However, when you look at it through the lens of a mother – trying to make her children happy, and helping them feel less like “the odd ones out,” it makes total sense. Now that I am a mother, my heart swells when I think about my mom’s decision to let us celebrate Christmas in our own way. She did what was necessary given our environment, peers, and our levels of sophistication. She and my dad continued to clarify that we are Jewish, and don’t believe in the same things as our friends do. They sent us to religious school at our synagogue, and we observed all the Jewish holidays and underwent all the Jewish milestones. We were never unsure about our faith, nor did we ever wish we were not Jewish. In the end, it was just sprinkling a little bit more happiness onto our lives, when it would otherwise feel slightly isolated.

Although we are grown, my family got so accustomed to celebrating Christmas in our own fashion, that we have continued to celebrate it each year. Besides, everything is closed in Houston except for the Chinese restaurants {don’t worry, we tend to frequent those for dinner on Christmas night like many Jews do!}. Now that my little family lives in the Jewish community, there is really no need to have my children celebrate Christmas. They most likely will never feel left out, or wish that they could celebrate Christmas. And trust me, we do Hanukkah like nobody’s business – complete with decorating the entire house, having dinner at the grandparent’s houses, where we eat “all the things” you crave each year, gifts galore, and special celebrations at our Jewish preschool. But Christmas has kind of become a habit at this point to do all of our little traditions. And it’s a great excuse to make Bubbe and Papa {my parents} come spend the day with us.

Hanukkah, with a little Christmas Sprinkled on Top | Houston Moms Blog

The beauty about living in a free country, and ultimately being allowed to practice – or not practice – the faith of your choice on your own terms, is one of the most special forms of freedom that exists. I personally believe that as long as you aren’t deliberately sending mixed messages and confusing your children, there is no harm in showing them, and letting them celebrate a few customs that aren’t necessarily originating from your background or religion.

Since Jewish holidays are based off of the Hebrew {lunisolar} calendar, Hanukkah never begins on the same day each year. Some years, you will find that it overlaps Christmas…perhaps a time when we would not feel the need to practice many of those secular customs. But then there are years like this one, when Hanukkah starts at sundown on Sunday, and Christmas feels more distant. It’s years like this that I am grateful we have our little traditions to enjoy Christmas together as a family. Besides, what else are we going do that day, besides eat Chinese food?


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