Hanukkah and Christmas: Growing Up With Blended Holiday Traditions

my worldcultural awareness

I am the child of a Jewish father and a Lutheran mother. Growing up, my brother and I usually found ourselves as the least-favored grandchildren of our devout, but dueling grandparents. Neither set of our grandparents ever totally approved of their children's choice to marry someone of a different faith. While they did love my brother and I, in a dutiful-sort of way, they always seemed to want to hold us at a bit of a distance.

Present day, I can now write that without the least bit of self-pity.  Both sets of grandparents lived a great distance away and were not a part of our daily lives, so the displaced disdain they reserved for us had more of a silly quality than an actual sting.  Like, when my dad’s parents presented my same-aged Jewish cousin with a gorgeous gold Star of David necklace and gave me a wrinkled five dollar bill.  I promptly bought a jumbo-sized bag of Skittles and felt sorry for my cousin, certain that I had gotten the long end of the stick in the gift department!  I do seem to recall that my parents didn’t take the disparity quite so well…

When December rolled around each year, my brother and I felt especially grateful to have two religious traditions to enjoy.  Unlike our cousins and friends, we got to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas and believed with all of our hearts that we hit the blended marriage lottery!

I loved the traditions from my father’s side of the family: playing dreidel games and eating warm potato latkes with my family are some of my happiest childhood memories.  Likewise, trimming a Christmas tree and attending candlelight Christmas Eve church services remain magical memories.  I knew I was living the best of both religious worlds.  My brother and I still laugh out loud at the year when my Jewish father wrapped up the Christian-themed Christmas tree ornaments and gave them to us for each night of Hanukkah.  Both sets of grandparents were speechless—and by that, I mean they didn’t speak to our family for weeks.

As time passes and the world becomes more of a melting pot, I like to think that these religious differences don't matter so much today.  Unlike three decades ago when my grandparents found them so appalling.  Then, I simply flip on the news and I know that religious wars are anything but a thing of the past.

Quite honestly, though—I don’t remember missing out on the contact.  We were a happy family, merrily blending traditions and enjoying the fellowship of the seasons in a very pure way.  As a kid, I felt like I was the “big winner” who got to enjoy two gift-giving holidays.  As an adult, I took with me the knowledge that blended traditions are the non-mathematical equivalent of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  It is a brand new world and it is time we embrace the changes, open our minds, celebrate our differences and enjoy the holiday as a time for love and peace.  How you celebrate the holiday is up to you, but celebrating family and friends is always the most important part.

How do you and your family celebrate the holidays?  Do you have blended families with differing views on the holidays?  How do you compromise?

By Signe Whitson, LSW.  A licensed social worker and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed.. In addition to blogging for Psychology Today, she is the creator of Passive Aggressive Diaries, a blog designed to take a light-hearted look at the hilariously conniving ways in which people encounter and exude passive aggressive behavior in their everyday lives.  Her advice is brought to you by My Baby Clothes Boutique.  Keep them in mind for your holiday shopping for the new angels in your lives - holiday baby clothes with matching adorable baby headbands and snuggly winter baby hats.
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