Family traditions. We all have them for a variety of occasions. At this time of year, of course, the traditions are everywhere. Some are religiously-based, some community-based, and then there are other family traditions that are simply that – family traditions.
When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, I didn’t know too many other families that celebrated both Chanukah and Christmas the way my family did. Most of my friends were definitively Christian (and therefore their traditions revolved around Christmas) or definitely Jewish (and therefore their traditions revolved around Chanukah). It felt odd back then to admit to my friends that my family celebrated both holidays. “Ooh, you’re so lucky” was the response I typically got. I didn’t actually feel lucky at the time; instead, I questioned our family’s quirky tradition of celebrating both holidays.
All of these years later, I realize we are indeed lucky to celebrate both holidays. So I continue with my parent’s tradition of celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas in my own family. In my mother's tradition, I too married a non-Jewish man and happily celebrate his Christian holidays. Around this time each year we follow the same sorts of traditional holiday preparations my parents did — buying Christmas presents, getting the Chanukah candles for the menorah, buying stocking stuffers, buying Chanukah gilt so we can play dreidel.
These days it seems our tradition of blending the two holidays is much more common than when I was growing up. I’ve noticed that I am not the only one at Target shopping both the Christmas ornaments and the Chanukah décor. Surely this is proof positive that other families are creating new traditions of double-dipping on the holidays much the way my family does.
One of my very favorite family traditions is celebrating the first night of Chanukah. Unlike Christmas, Chanukah is a fairly low-key holiday and while presents are given (traditionally, each of the eight nights of Chanukah), our family's tradition is to give one small present to each child only on the first night of Chanukah. We save the big gift giving for Christmas.
The first evening of Chanukah is celebrated by our family more like Thanksgiving — around a big, delicious meal. This year, my sister prepared a scrumptious roast chicken After her youngest daughter lit the Menorah (as is the tradition) we all enjoyed a satisfying meal while the kids raised glasses of sparkling grape juice and toasted to a special night.
Following dinner, the kids opened their small gifts while the adults continued to enjoy chatting around the dinner table, glasses of wine in hand. After the gift giving and playing, adults and kids alike once again sat at the table so we could all play dreidel together. I have always loved this tradition of a built-in family game night. It isn’t often that my entire immediate family sits down to play a game together, and we almost never play games together with my sister’s entire family, so it is special and a lot of fun.
My parents aren't the only ones to make traditions, though. Shortly after we moved to Maplewood, I started a new tradition that was inspired by a recipe I read in Matters Magazine. This recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Bark sounded so delicious to me, I immediately adopted it as my own. Now, each year at the holidays I like to surprise family and friends with a gift of homemade peppermint bark. The tasty treat appeals to every holiday celebrant and is a tradition everyone enjoys!
This year, I was inspired to create yet another tradition by my friend and Maplewood resident, Sharon McCaffery. Over brunch recently, Sharon shared with me a modern twist on an Advent calendar — I immediately exclaimed “I’m using this for the eight nights of Chanukah!” You see, while my tradition of celebrating both holidays is fun for the kids, it is also somewhat confusing.
My children are young and asked recently why they don’t receive gifts each night of Chanukah, as their other Jewish friends do. I can recognize my own childhood confusion in their eyes. To help them, I decided to take my friend's modern Advent calendar and adapt it for a Jewish audience. In lieu of gifts, my children will pull a different Mom-made coupon out of a hat each night of Chanukah; the coupons give them a unique at-home experience. For example, the first night they pulled the following:
“Sleepover! This coupon entitles you and your brother to sleep together in one of your rooms in your sleeping bags, and talk as long as you want. Have fun ☺”
Other coupons include ice cream for breakfast and swapping beds one night with Mommy and Daddy. These coupons give them something else to look forward to each night as we light the candles, and Mommy and Daddy don’t have to dole out any additional cash. That’s a tradition I can get used to.
All of this talk about traditions makes me wonder — which traditions are enjoyed by your quirky family for your holiday celebration? I'd love to hear about them, and maybe adopt them as my own in future years.