Merry Hanukkah

Lena Armstrong

This year, the first night of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Eve, which has not happened since 1978. The fluctuating date of Hanukkah is a result of the High holiday falling on the 25th of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, a lunar calendar.  In contrast, Christmas falls on the 25th of December in the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar. The two line up on this date about 4 times every 100 years. When Christmas and Hanukkah coincide, it complicates many interfaith households around the country, including mine.

Coming from interfaith parents, I am bombarded with the same questions from friends every holiday season: “Do you get presents for both Christmas and Hanukkah? (You are so lucky.) Do you have a tree and a menorah? What do you do for Christmas? What about Hanukkah?”

To which I mechanically reply with a spiel, which I recently learned came from The Interfaith Handbook (which was given to my mother when she announced her engagement): “I have been raised Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah, but I help my dad’s family celebrate Christmas.”  

In Judaism the child’s religion is determined by the mother.  My parents made the decision (before we were born) to raise my sister and me Jewish. I celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days and became a bat mitzvah. Our family is Jewish in a secular sense: we never belonged to a synagogue. However, I spent a significant amount of time learning and exploring the Torah. In contrast, I have never been to church during a service, or learned about the New Testament formally.

In regards to Christmas vs. Hanukkah, I practice, embody, and understand the significance of the high holiday of Hanukkah, whereas I am merely a bystander for my family’s Christmas celebration. On Christmas day, my mother’s side of the family treks to the local Chinese restaurant and movie theater, while my nuclear family heads to my paternal grandparents’ for a big Christmas dinner with my father’s extended family.  

I do not receive Christmas gifts from my family, but instead get Hanukkah gifts.  On Hanukkah, I lead my family in song as I light the candles, relish latkes, and spin the dreidel, as I unwrap and eat my gelt winnings. My mom’s side of the family usually gathers together on one of the eight nights of Hanukkah for a big celebration. My parents used to give me one (or more) gifts each night, lined up in rows for each night in our family room, which we would stare at the pile for a week leading up to the first night.

This year was unique in the sense that these nights were combined. On the 24th, we enjoyed our usual Christmas Eve tradition of taking my father out for a festive celebration in a nice restaurant, and giving him Christmas cards and presents.  However, this year we came home from that dinner to light the candles and receive Hanukkah gifts as well. Of course, gifts were swathed in holiday appropriate wrapping paper: my dad’s were red and green, with Christmas trees and bearded Santas, while ours were blue and silver, decorated with Stars of David, menorahs, and dreidels.

The following day, we went to my paternal grandparents’ retirement community for a lovely lunch of beef tenderloin and roasted chicken, with potatoes, carrots, rolls, assorted cakes and pies.  We came home to again light the candles for the second night of Hanukkah. Later, we enjoyed some take-in Chinese food and a rented movie.  My Chrismukkah, with all of its religious affiliations, was full of family, obviously food, lots of food, and joy.

Happy Holidays!