"Making Merry" this Chanukah Season
December 7, 2018
By: Gabby Markowitz Grubbs, Honeymoon Israel Atlanta, May 2016
My mother would plotz. My father would roll over in his grave. If only they knew that my two year old son and I were “making merry” decorating the house for Chanukah.
I grew up in a Jewish household where “Christmas” was virtually a dirty word. We would usually travel to our winter vacation spot on Christmas Day because: a) the lines were shorter and, b) so that we would not develop any Christmas traditions other than commercial air travel. Christmas music would come on the radio, and the station was changed faster than you can say five golden rings! We didn’t even get to eat the traditional Jewish Christmas Eve meal of take-out chinese food because it might have become too much of a “Christmas Tradition." Needless to say, the day I requested a “Chanukah bush” was a quiet evening at my house...
The challenge was, I loved (and still love) Christmas! The cold time of year. The decorations. The lights. The window displays. Eggnog. The traditions and the smells. However, as a child, the impression I received from my parents was that to enjoy Christmas was a betrayal of my Judaism. And that to a certain extent, I had to avoid all things related to Christmas in order to prove my faith each year.
Eventually, my parents' mentality became my own and I drew a hard line in the sand. Many years later I was a single 20- and 30- something dating my way around Atlanta. My friends would invite me for Christmas at their homes and I was thrilled. My work asked me to decorate the office for the holidays and I did it on my day off, unpaid! But not once did I think about what it would be like to celebrate Christmas in my own home. The wall between these two worlds of mine was so thick that, while I dated men of other faiths, I always scheduled the Christmas-Tree-Conversation for date #2, #3 or #4. I shared my feelings about how Christmas, for me, was a thing I experienced and did outside the home and that I may never feel comfortable putting up a tree.
My now husband passed the Christmas-Tree-Conversation with flying colors - and on date #2! He was far more concerned that dating a Jewish girl meant he might have to give up eating bacon. HA!
Fast forward, and we now have a son who we are raising Jewish. Our boy was born around Thanksgiving so his first Chanukah is a blur of breast milk and sleep deprivation. But his second Chanukah literally put me into panic. How could we raise a Jewish child to love his heritage while he’s immersed so heavily in everything Christmas? What about how half of his heritage IS Christmas?!? As this spiral in my mind continued, my husband and I hired a sitter and headed to a Chanukah party that also served as our annual Honeymoon Israel Family reunion.
When we pulled up to their home, I was surprised by the kaleidoscopic light show of dreidels projected onto the front of their house. In their living room were bowls and vases filled with star-of-david ornaments and strings of blue and white lights. It was a beautiful and tasteful display, but for a moment I was taken aback by this blending of traditions. As I discussed my thoughts with our friends, our hosts quickly introduced me to a completely different mindset.
So many of us are blended couples having blended babies and out of respect for that, traditions will change, but they can change for the better.
It’s shouldn’t be Christmas v. Chanukah in our home. Instead, I can open myself up to appreciate some of the best of what Christmas has to offer and incorporate it into our family’s Chanukah traditions at home. People have some wonderful memories of decorating their trees with their families. So if my Jewish family enjoys a similar tradition at a similar time of year, we’re not necessarily celebrating Christmas or abandoning Judaism, but making colorful memories that will bond us to each other and to our faith.
...And that is why this year my two-year-old is wrapped in strings of blue metallic beads and playing keep-away with the cat, while I hang six-pointed snowflakes from the mantel with blue ribbon. We've decided as a family that decorating for the holiday is fun. It can be its own tradition, and in our home, it doesn’t take anything away from Chanukah. It simply adds to it.