To quote my favorite fellow dual-holiday celebrator, The O.C.’s Seth Cohen, “Allow me to introduce you to a little something that I like to call Chrismukkah.”
My father is Jewish and my mother is Christian, making the holiday season a joint celebration that’s shaped my entire life.
I know the story of the time in my mom’s life when her parents became Christians and I know the story of my dad’s grandparents immigrating to the United States fleeing the anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. Every home we ever lived in had a cross on the wall and a mezuzah on each door frame.
What does it mean to be raised by parents of two different religions? On a day-to-day basis, not much.
While I may be half-Jewish by heritage, I am not Jewish by religion. Judaism is matrilineal, so you are raised by your mother’s religion. My mother is Christian, so that is the religion I was raised in. But because of my father, the Jewish holidays are always on my calendar. Most of the Christian and Jewish holidays are either celebrated by both or occur at different times throughout the year.
The one time of the year that my dual background affects my daily life is the holiday season, or as it’s known among my family: Chrismukkah.
Our tiny family of three has celebrated Chrismukkah my entire life, breaking out the menorah AND the Christmas tree each December.
Of the two holidays, I can’t really pick a favorite, but Hanukkah will always feel more personal to my family. My family has never lived in areas with large Jewish populations. When I was growing up, we were the only family I knew that celebrated Hanukkah. Every year, we made an effort to invite friends over so that they could learn about the holiday. I taught my second grade class about the story of Hanukkah and I taught them how to play dreidel. Then in college, when I couldn’t make it home, I taught my dorm.
The best years are the ones where the holidays overlap so I can be home with my parents for both. But since I’m now away more often than I am back home, we’ve started the new tradition of mailing our Hanukkah presents in advance and lighting the menorah via FaceTime.
Of the holidays, Christmas is definitely the most widely celebrated. And as I’ve gotten older and moved away from the Midwest, the amount of Hanukkah-celebrators I know has continued to grow. But Chrismukkah? That will always be just ours (no matter how much of my life I dedicate to evangelizing about the most wonderful holiday mashup of all time).
My parents found a way to pass on traditions from each of their respective backgrounds, by blending them into a holiday that is special to all of us.
This includes decking the house in equal parts Hanukkah and Christmas decor, my mother giving me a Christmas ornament every first night of Hanukkah, lighting the menorah for eight nights, going to church on Christmas Eve, and going to a movie on Christmas afternoon.
We still laugh about the year I got my nativity set for Hanukkah because my mom wanted me to have it in time for Christmas, and I will never forget teaching a handful of my dorm-mates how to play dreidel with goldfish because we didn’t have anything else to gamble with.
Ultimately, it’s not about about which holiday is better or the differences between the two, but about the traditions we’ve made that are unique to just us. That’s what makes Chrismukkah magical.
P.S. For those who are still wondering about the most commonly asked Chrismukkah question: “Does this mean you get double the presents? Or, like, 8 days of presents followed by one big day of presents?” The answer is unfortunately, no. We do exchange gifts for both Hanukkah and Christmas, but in my family, we just space gifts out between the holidays. Sorry to disappoint.