Interfaith Holiday Traditions
Santa never came to my house when I was a little girl. It’s not because I was naughty. (Well, I was naughty sometimes, but that’s not why Santa didn't come.) Santa didn't visit my house because my family didn't celebrate Christmas. We didn't celebrate it as a religious holiday, nor did we participate in any of the more secular activities—therefore we didn't have a tree in our living room, or Christmas lights strung on our house, or photos with Santa at the mall.
All these things sounded magical to me, but I never really felt like I was missing out. My parents and extended family embraced our rich heritage and taught me about the wonders of my own wintertime holiday—Hanukkah. We ate crispy potato pancakes and played Dreidel with chocolate coins (gelt). Plus we had eight whole nights of presents, while Christmas only lasted for one day.
When I married someone who celebrated Christmas, I was thrilled to have the chance to do some of the things I didn't get to do as a kid. As soon as we had a house of our own, I insisted on getting a real Christmas tree. I begged my husband to hang lights on our house. We made a big Christmas breakfast for my in-laws. We also lit a menorah, exchanged Hanukkah gifts and learned (through trial and error) how to make delicious latkes.
Once we had children of our own, we really began to establish our family’s interfaith holiday traditions. Every year, we celebrate Hanukkah by lighting a menorah and saying the traditional blessings. My eight-year-old can say the blessings in Hebrew, and this year she began teaching her five-year-old sister to say them too. I visit both girls’ classes and share the story of Hanukkah with their classmates. I bring homemade latkes for their friends to try and send each child home with a dreidel of their own.
We also buy a Christmas tree, which we decorate with mostly homemade ornaments. I’ve saved just about every ornament that the girls have ever made, and we have fun reminiscing each year as we unpack them. We leave cookies and milk for Santa, set carrots in the backyard for the reindeer, and eagerly await the arrival of Snowflake, our beloved Elf on the Shelf. We also bake gingerbread cookies in Christmas and Hanukkah shapes.
Our Christmas tree sits on a Hanukkah tablecloth, and huge piles of gifts wrapped in Hanukkah paper appear underneath the tree, courtesy of their grandparents. My lucky kids get eight gifts apiece for Hanukkah, plus a whole bunch more on Christmas morning. We also “adopt” a child for whom we buy Christmas gifts and open our home to all of our friends and family for a big Christmas dinner, practicing the tradition of tzedakah, or charity.
We have a unique way of celebrating the holidays and combining our traditions, but we’re so proud to call them our own.
Sharon is a mommy, a runner, and a licensed therapist. Sometimes she wants to run away, but she sticks with running marathons instead. Come visit her at Mommy Runs It, where she blogs about motherhood, marathon training, and balancing it all without losing her mind. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate the holiday season?