I get a lot of questions this time of year about our multi-cultural and inter-faith holiday traditions. Questions like “You have a Christmas tree? Aren’t you Jewish?” and “If you don’t celebrate Christmas, when do you open presents?” Since Hanukkah begins tomorrow (and so does my birthday!) I figured this is the perfect time to tell you guys all about our crazy Russian-Jewish-Canadian mish mash of Hanukkah-Christmas-New Year’s holiday season. So here is a our whirlwind Chrismukkah holiday traditions intro!
I love the holiday season. December is my favourite month of the year. I love peppermint cocoa and blasting holiday music in my car. I love doing holiday arts and crafts with the kids. My favourite preparation of all is decorating the tree. Since we are an interfaith, multi cultural family, we get to choose from a whole buffet of holiday traditions (and food!). On top of it, because our holiday season doesn’t focus or culminate on just one single day, we get to celebrate however and whenever (and with whomever) we want and no one gets offended.
My Birthday and Hanukkah
It all starts with my birthday! Not technically a holiday for everyone else out there (though feel free to celebrate anyway) but of course it’s a big deal around here. I will turn 34 this month which is pretty unbelievable to me. Seriously, where did the time go?!
The Chrismukkah holiday traditions intro begins with Hanukkah. Hanukkah is usually in December but the actual date varies based on the Jewish calendar. Since it lasts for eight nights, some years it overlaps with Christmas, but this year it does not. This year, the first night of Hanukkah actually falls on my birthday. I already made sure to let Husband know that I want delicious sufganiyot instead of cake. Happy Birthdukkah to me!
When I was growing up in Israel, it seemed that every store, cafe and falafel place sold sufganiyot for pretty much the whole month of December. We would often ask for pocket money so we could stop by a storefront on the way home from school to get one of these for the walk home.
After my birthday, the celebration continues with the rest of the eight nights of Hanukkah. We do the food and the dreidel games and listening to Hanukkah music – which is a pretty short playlist mostly comprised of The Barenaked Ladies, Adam Sandler and the Maccabeats. Even though we can’t make it a huge celebration every night, we do light candles and I try to do something Hanukkah related every day, whether it’s eating latkes for dinner or a few pieces of gelt (chocolate coins) for dessert. Which Husband insists on purposely mispronouncing as “Jewish Guilt”.
This year we fly to Toronto for the holidays just in time to celebrate the last night of Hanukkah with my parents. My dad has already promised to make latkes for us, and I’m so excited because they’re the best and I can never make them the same way he does.
We don’t give gifts every night because that would be nuts considering what is yet to come with regards to gift-giving. This year I got a couple of books for Lulu to give her as Hanukkah presents. We love this book, Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, about a girl who celebrates both holidays with her interfaith family.
The New Year’s Tree
Standing tall and twinkly right next to our Hanukkah Menorah is our decorated holiday tree. It’s been up since before (American) Thanksgiving because I absolutely love decorating the tree and it makes the whole holiday season feel more festive. I have a bit of an obsession with the tree ornaments and I’ve acquired a collection of ornaments over the years that is both sentimental and beautiful.
I know there are probably some readers who rolled their eyes when I went out of my way to say holiday tree instead of calling it a Christmas tree. The reason for this is because our tree isn’t decorated just for Chrismukkah. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I always had a New Year’s tree. In the USSR, the tree was put up and decorated for December 31st as part of the New Year’s holiday. It was not religious at all and had nothing to do with Christmas. Jews and Christians and atheists alike had a New Year’s tree and opened up New Year’s presents brought by Ded Moroz (Father Winter).
We continue this Chrismukkah holiday tradition in our home and my parents’ home as well. We gather round the New Year’s tree and exchange gifts on New Year’s day.
Check out my expat holiday gift shopping guide for how to buy gifts while in another country.
Obviously since this is a Chrismukkah holiday traditions intro, we have to talk about Christmas. Since my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, we spend Christmas eve and Christmas day with Husband’s family. It’s great because no one has to argue over whose house we get to go to for Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
We all exchange and open Christmas gifts with that side of the family and they even had a giant stocking for Lulu last year. Lulu has been talking about going to Canada to celebrate Christmas pretty much since September rolled around. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve watched the Curious George Christmas movie.
Lulu doesn’t quite understand which part of the holiday season is actually Christmas. In her head the whole season is Christmas. Last year Hanukkah started at the same time as Christmas so it was even more confusing to try to explain what we’re celebrating and when. Every year she will learn a little more about how and why we do things differently.
Before I met my husband, I celebrated a “Jewish Christmas” with my best friend every year – watching a movie in the theatres with all the other Jews in our town and then ordering Chinese take out. I still remember those days fondly. I watched all three of the LOTR movies on Christmas day.
For me, New Year’s is actually the biggest of the winter holidays! Sounds weird, I know.
Dec 31st, New Year’s eve, is a day for friends. I love New Year’s celebrations. Although they have changed some since having kids, we’ve had a lot of fun playing games and catching up. Luckily my brother and sister in law as well as friends can come over to ring in the New Year while the kiddos are sleeping upstairs.
I grew up with New Year’s Eve being the BIGGEST holiday of the year. It combines a whole bunch of traditions into this one secular holiday. Not only does a Russian New Year’s celebration involve a decorated New Year’s tree and presents, but it also involved children putting on school plays, going to see Ded Moroz (Father Winter), singing New Year’s songs and watching New Year’s movies.
NYE celebrations for Russian people are huge feasts, eating and drinking and toasting long into the night. Often these parties are dress up where people show up in costume. Of course there’s the regular New Year’s stuff like ringing in the year with Champagne and watching the TV special with your country’s most prominent performers.
New Year’s day is a family day. That is the day my family finally exchanges presents. It’s really a wonderful way to wrap up the whole holiday season and the crazy whirlwind month of December. Surrounded by family, we’re all a little sluggish on New Year’s morning. We take our time, usually wearing PJs long into the afternoon. We laugh and chat as we open our gifts. It’s a wonderful way to start the New Year.
Hope you enjoyed this introduction to our crazy Chrismukkah holiday traditions. One thing I know for sure, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. I love having so many wonderful, heartwarming Chrismukkah traditions and holidays to choose from. We’ve especially been so lucky to have so many people and homes that welcome us and share the holidays with us. At the end of the day, it’s the loving people that we get to celebrate with who make the holidays extra special.
Do you have a non-traditional holiday tradition? I’d love to know! Leave a comment below.
Whatever holidays you do or do not celebrate with your family, and whatever traditions you choose, I wish you all the happiness this Holiday Season.
Want to know more about Hanukkah? Check out this video from Mayim Bialik: