Growing up, I’ve had so many precious memories of changing out the little wooden star of my snowman advent calendar. I would do this as I would walk out the door for school in the morning, excitedly counting down to Christmas. From baking cookies and chocolate-covered cherries with my older sister, to Christmas morning when we would tiptoe down the stairs with the smell of cinnamon rolls being iced in the air and peek around the corner to get an eye on what Santa had left us, Christmas was nothing short of wondrous as a child.
But the fun never halted with Christmas. I remember that the very next day on December 26th, we would go to visit my grandmother in Delray Beach. You see, with her (as well as my aunts, cousins, younger sister, stepmother, and uncles), I have equally heartwarming memories of latkes, playing dreidel in a circle on the floor, of course eating chocolate gelt, and my favorite part: the lighting of the menorah.
I was raised with both Hanukkah AND Christmas. Was that confusing as a kid? Shockingly, not really. Christmas in my house, even though the Italian side of my family was Catholic, was actually not a religious celebration for us — it was a traditional one. Actually, my grandmother even told me stories of how they often used to have a Christmas tree on Hanukkah, simply because the kids loved how they smelled. (Spoiler alert: The tree triggered my dad’s asthma hardcore… Oy vey!)
As for the Jewish side of my family, while we didn’t go to temple or practice Orthodox Judaism, Judaism was still incredibly meaningful and very special to me. I didn’t know it as a little girl, but most of the time Hanukkah had already passed by the time we got to my grandmother’s house. Still, the party was planned so that we could hold it when I would be able to be there (after Christmas) with the other half of my family. The Jewish side of my family never took away from the joy of Christmas from me, and vice versa.
Now that I am older and have my own children with my husband, Shawn, we don’t really practice any specific religion. The really unique thing for me about my Jewish roots is that it’s not just a religion, but a heritage and culture all in one. So if you were to come over for some tea tonight, you’d see our beautifully lit Christmas trees (yes, we have two), matching stockings, and glittery ornaments. But you’d also see our Mensch on a Bench, whom we named Micah (that’s our Jewish version of Elf on a Shelf, who teaches us the importance of mitzvah), our menorah, the chocolate gelt, dreidels inside the stockings, and you’d probably notice a smell of latkes and matzo in the air as you admire the mezuzah by our doorway.
Our children, while they are still very young, have not expressed any confusion at all. What is important to my husband and me is that we instill a strong sense of family tradition, and especially culture in our household. We want them to know where they come from and who they are. Truthfully, they are a beautiful mix of both Shawn and me. That’s something we strive to do all year, but especially during the holidays — and it’s quite the eclectic and extra joyful season!
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