Balancing Christmas and Hanukkah in a Dual-Faith Family
When December rolls around, I fully expect my 3-year-old twins to spontaneously combust. They won’t nap for the entire 31 days of the month. By the time the new year makes its first appearance, they should have bags under their eyes the size of Texas.
In our house, December marks the arrival of both Hanukkah and Christmas. This is every kid’s dream… not one, but two holidays. And, from the perspective of a narcissistic child, it’s like manna from heaven.
Celebrating one holiday that is heralded by retail stores for months and is hyped everywhere (Christmas), alongside the other holiday — a smaller, more sedate one (Hanukkah) — is a delicate matter. High level diplomats are sometimes consulted to negotiate the exact terms.
As adults with kids, my husband Scott and I have attempted to meld our two family traditions into one. Scott’s family’s Hanukkah rituals were simple, mostly comprised of lighting the menorah and getting together with family. Gift-giving occurred on a small scale when he was a child. For me, Christmas was and always has been a big deal: the annual trek to see the bearded one for the obligatory photo (most likely involving kicking and screaming), the tree, the shopping, putting up the crèche, the gift-giving and the dinner. It’s a tough assignment, trying to gracefully blend the two without letting Christmas engulf the entire month, but also without over-commercializing Hanukkah so as to compete with Christmas.
We started last year, by making sure that the kids learned the Hebrew Hanukkah prayers as we lit the candles on the menorah each night. They wore what they called their “Hanukkah hats” (yarmulkes) and clamored for their nightly Hanukkah gelt (real coins, or, in the case of my kids, gold, foil-wrapped chocolate coins). Though some families give gifts every night of the eight-day festival of lights, we opted to keep it simple and to stick with the gelt every night. We got down on the kitchen floor and spun the Pooh dreidels (tops) that I found at a local store. (Yes, they have Pooh dreidels. In fact, they even have a 100-Acre Wood menorah complete with Tigger.) But on the final night, we gave the kids each a gift, nothing huge, but something they’d enjoy. Last year it was Blue’s Clues placemats, cups, plates and bowls. It was a giant hit.
The Hanukkah decorations are usually somewhat muted compared to the Christmas ones. We display our two menorahs. Our dreidel collection sits in a Hanukkah glass dish. Our Hanukkah candles — I usually try to find some unique ones — are put into a crystal dish… far out of the reach of the human wrecking balls I call my kids.
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