Part Christmas, Part Hanukkah.

Although I was born Christmas, I feel like I’m slightly part Hanukkah now. Each year since I remarried--an event which brought two Jewish step-children into my life--I have anticipated the Festival of Lights with almost as much excitement as my hybrid celebration of the winter solstice/yule, and Christmas. In turn, my step-kids--who are no strangers to Christmas--are heavily exposed to a month of Christmas festivities while sharing their rituals of Hanukkah with the Christmas folk they now live with. (I'll wait a moment while you fully digest that sentence.)
2nd night of Hanukkah
My step-kids are actually half-Christmas and half-Hanukkah (their mother is Jewish, their father is not). Their parents long ago agreed the children would be raised Jewish, so they are attending the several years of Hebrew school that prepare them to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Having grown up with Christian and Jewish extended families, however, they have honored their heritage from both sides by celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas from the time they were born. As each year draws to a close, they look forward to lighting Hanukkah candles as well as decorating the Christmas tree with their doting out-of-town Presbyterian grandparents.
Latkes 2Since their father and I were married, they now live half-time in a home brimming with Christmas during December, including decor and symbols that honor my own Christian and Celtic pre-Christian ancestry. I love to cozy up every shelf and corner with cinnamon scented candles, colored lights, evergreen branches, holly, ivy, mistletoe, pine cones, Santa Claus and Father Christmas figurines, little bottle brush trees, images of Victorian Christmas, a Mexican nativity scene (to honor my half-Mexican son), and of course a Christmas tree. All kinds of Christmas music--from popular and New Age to Renaissance and Celtic--plays in the house during the holiday season, and the everyday dishes are stored away in favor of holly-trimmed plates and mugs. There is no mistaking what we’re celebrating at this address!
Latkes 3
Not wanting my stepkids’ Jewish heritage to disappear amidst all the trappings of Christmas, my husband and I cooked a batch of potato latkes (yes, that's the recipe I use each year, served with applesauce and sour cream, yum!) and noodle kugel starting the first year we all lived in the same house. We bought a menorah so they could light candles and sing Hanukkah blessings just as they do when they are in their fully Jewish home. I can tell they appreciate celebrating Hanukkah with the non-Hanukkah parents. I loved seeing the delight on their faces when they realized there was a menorah in this house, and when they saw the colorful Hanukkah platter we bought for serving latkes. I’m happy to help create a comforting atmosphere for them with familiar foods, symbols and decor while they take the lead in song, prayer and sometimes even dreidel games during this quiet festival. I think we’ve succeeded in letting them know their Jewishness is a welcome part of their new family and not strictly reserved for when they are with their mother.
Latkes 7Just about when Hanukkah is wrapping up, our little blended family (which includes my very Christmasy teenage son) has a tradition of purchasing the Christmas tree together. We bundle up and trundle off to my stepson’s high school (also my alma mater) to buy a fundraiser tree, then stop for hot chocolate and mochas to warm our hands. We decorate the tree with Christmas rock music playing in the background and plates of cookies nearby. Everyone must put at least one ornament on the tree, an easy requirement for the kids to satisfy as each of them has their own collection of ornaments, which we add to every year with a new ornament tied around their stocking. Those half-Hanukkah kids know their way around a Christmas tree, and always have a good time dressing it up! They enjoy waking up in our house on Christmas morning to stuffed stockings and gifts under the tree, a family breakfast, a lazy day enjoying their new books and games, and then a nice family dinner. It's not a religious celebration, but one of family, love, music, light, warmth, and togetherness. And plenty of homemade food. Oh, allright ... and presents!
Latkes 9We’re lucky our blended family gets along as well as we do, and I’m grateful that we share these very different winter holidays together. I hope that by celebrating both holidays we’re creating experiences and memories to help our Christmas and Hanukkah children honor their ancestry and be as open to diversity as their parents were (and still are). I know we will always have a menorah in our home and look forward to making delicious fried latkes every year. I’m not as certain what will become of my stepkids’ Christmas ornaments when they are grown and start their own holiday traditions. Will they celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas? or both? something else maybe? At the very least I hope they will happily remember these two holidays in a home that made room for them both.
Menorah and tree

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