Growing up, I celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas traditions during the holiday season, and I’m continuing these traditions with my children. My father is Jewish, and my mother is Protestant, so I grew up in a mixed religion house.
For those who are not familiar with Hanukkah, the holiday celebrates when Jews achieved victory over their oppressors and rededicated their Temple. The Temple only had enough oil to light the candelabrum or menorah for one night, but the oil lasted for eight days. This is why Hanukkah is multiple-day celebration also known as the Festival of Lights. By the way, Hanukkah has only gained popularity because of its proximity to Christmas.
My parents aren’t overly religious, and they didn’t want to force one religion or another on their children. But they wanted to share their respective religions with us. We always had a Christmas tree and celebrated other Christmas traditions of making a list for Santa Claus and eating Christmas cookies.
When I was in second grade, I started Hebrew school and then I really started to embrace Hanukkah traditions of lighting the menorah, playing dreidel, and eating potato latkes. During Hanukkah, we eat potato latkes, donuts, and other foods fried in oil to celebrate the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights.
In fourth grade, I dropped out of Hebrew school because I felt there was too much homework so I never received my Bat Mitzvah. I attended a Catholic high school and a Catholic college. While I have fond memories of both schools, but the Catholic teachings did help to affirm my Jewish faith and I shared my Hanukkah traditions with my classmates.
Young Adulthood Traditions
As a young adult, I continued to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas traditions with family and friends. I even joined a Jewish Young Adults group at our Temple in Concord, where I made new friends to share traditions with. We had our own Hanukkah parties with delicious potato latkes.
When I worked in the long-term care field, I continued to share Jewish traditions with both the long-term care population as well as my co-workers. I worked in the recreation department of multiple nursing homes as well as adult day health centers. In these settings, I educated my co-workers on the Hanukkah traditions and how to help nursing home residents to celebrate the holidays. I also enjoyed celebrating Christmas traditions with the long-term care population.
Motherhood and Continuing Traditions
My husband is not religious at all. However was happy to incorporate some Jewish traditions into our wedding ceremony including the ceremonial breaking of the glass. He also encourages me to celebrate the Jewish holidays with our children and looks forward to eating potato latkes at Hanukkah. The kids love all the Hanukkah traditions. At the same time, we just put up our Christmas tree and we’re reminding the kids that Santa is watching.
Last year we read a great book called Smelf the Hanukkah Elf, which incorporates both Hanukkah and Christmas into a fun story that children had relate to. The story explains how Jewish children aren’t left out of Christmas because they have their own traditions and fun. We love getting books about Judaism from the PJ Library and participating in events through the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire.
This year Hanukkah starts December 18. I’m looking forward to celebrating these Hanukkah traditions with my family and then celebrating Christmas traditions the following week. And I’ll probably eat Chinese food on Christmas.