Blended families mix old traditions at Hanukkah and Christmas, creating new ones

RACHEL SPEZIA, Special to the Jewish Light

Hanukkah holds an extra special place in my heart. That’s likely because it was the only Jewish holiday we celebrated when I was growing up. We were taught to be incredibly proud of our Jewish identity, but other than Hanukkah and the insane amount of matzah and peanut butter my grandmother consumed, being Jewish was mostly an internal badge of honor rather than a lived experience.

But each night, year after year, our family gatherings at Hanukkah were meaningful. I remember my grandmother writing out the Hanukkah blessings phonetically when I was a child so that I could recite and learn them. The mismatched napkins we’d cover our heads with. The same Ziploc bag of quarters we’d use to play dreidel with.

After my mom remarried, we started celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. And our Christmas family gatherings were also meaningful. We even had a Christmas ornament in the shape of a Hanukkiah.

Fast forward to today. I learned a new word: Christmasizing. I’m no dictionary, but I understood this word to mean, “the application of phrases or graphics associated with Christmas to things that, well, aren’t Christmas.” Things like my childhood Hanukkiah ornament.

In learning this new term, I have come to find out that many people disapprove of the Christmasizing of Hanukkah. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it is problematic such as using images of menorahs with the incorrect number of candles, which happens a lot.

But, my childhood home — and now the home I share with my husband who isn’t Jewish — is represented in the term Christmasizing. I’ll even go a step farther to say it’s also represented in the term “Hanukkahizing,” which happens each year when we pull out our Ziploc bag full of quarters to play dreidel on Dec. 25th and when we leave jelly donuts out for Santa instead of cookies.

In fact, many homes — many Jewish homes — often have both the scent of onions and gingerbread in December or a closet full of red wrapping paper and blue. Many homes celebrate the miracles of Hanukkah and the magic of Christmas (or the numerous other holidays that take place around this time). No matter if your light comes from a Hanukkiah or the top of a tree — may we all have peace and good health this season and always.

Rachel Spezia is the Director of Communications at Congregation B’nai Amoona. She and her husband, James, have a son named Wolfie. They are members of B’nai Amoona.