By Guest Blogger Jenny Kaiser
Christmas and Chanukah. One for Christians and one for Jews. So what do you do when your family celebrates both? Our family, like many others, includes both Christians and Jews. One of my best friends is Catholic, I have in-laws who are Presbyterian, and we’re Jewish.
Early on in my kids’ childhood, our family decided to celebrate the two holidays as a family with my Presbyterian in-laws and my Catholic best friend’s family. We stole the name Christmakkah from the O.C. and developed our own traditions. For example, we had Christmakah dinner with a menu of potato latkes, ham (not at my house), and sufganyot (jelly doughnuts) for dessert. We opened presents, sang songs, and ate until everyone was in a food coma.
One Christmakkah tradition that sticks out was my best friend’s idea. My boys love Christmas trees, but because we are a traditional Jewish family, they didn’t get one at our house. So, she set aside special ornaments, snowflakes, for my boys to hang on her tree.
Every year after Thanksgiving, my bestie would call us over to finish decorating the tree. We would sing songs, both Christmas and Chanukah, decorate the tree, drink hot cocoa, and take a Santa hat family photo. When the kids were little they loved the photo,
teen years not so much, and adult years begged for it!
Christmakah became so popular with our immediate families, we began to include our extended families in the celebration. My best friend’s brothers and their kids joined in. Then our parents too. All of the kids learned Chanukah and Christmas traditions and the stories
together. One year my best friend’s niece told the Chanukah story to her class announcing that she had Jewish cousins.
The benefits of blending Christmas and Chanukah didn’t end with the holiday season. By introducing the concept of honoring each other’s religious practice, it allowed us to celebrate other religious events. Our children learned the importance of Bar Mitzvah, First
Communion, and Confirmations. They also saw how Passover and Easter are similar and different. As parents, we saw an affirmation of their own identities while respecting others.
The greatest lesson learned from Christmakah is that family is the most meaningful part of the holiday season. Through the celebration, we taught our kids how to help loved ones honor their holidays without being the same religion. We gained an appreciation of
each other’s culture and in the process made our families stronger. It is best summed up by my older son when he was five. We were driving the car and he asked, “You know why we celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas? Because we’re a family.”