Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas Our Way


By Estelle Sobel Erasmus

Lighting the Hanukkah menorah
Lighting the (Electric) Menorah

Each December, I tingle in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season. I savor it all…the songs, the sentiment, the TV specials, the homey smells of cinnamon, apple cider, and cookies, and the spirit of tzedakah.

I’m Jewish, born and raised in New York, married to a South African man who is the son of an Evangelist minister. (Read more about our story here).

In our family, we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.

I recall with fondness the Hanukkahs of my youth, reciting the blessings as we lit the menorah, and participating in my family’s rather competitive games of spin the dreidel. My dad’s gloating kvelling when he landed on Gimmel would assume biblical proportions.

And so, my husband and I have decided to keep these Hanukkah traditions of my childhood.

We will celebrate the first night of Hanukkah dinner at my parent’s home, where we’ll devour my mom’s crispy potato latkes garnished with applesauce, and my daughter will consume copious quantities of chocolate gelt. We’ll play dreidel, sing songs, and exchange presents. Later on, I’ll cuddle with my daughter and read to her the books about Hanukkah that we received from the PJ library.

But we have also been busy creating family traditions to celebrate Christmas.

We decorate our small electric tree with ornaments, including the soft plushy ones that I insisted on when my daughter started to crawl, because I was terrified that she’d break–or God forbid eat–anything glass or plastic. My daughter’s name is Crystal, so this year we will continue our family tradition of buying one beautiful crystal ornament a year to hang high on the tree. And though we don’t dine on the traditional leg of lamb for Christmas dinner that my husband remembers from his childhood, we do make it a point to cook a steak or go out for a nice meal. Also–much to my daughter’s delight, my husband has embraced the purely American ritual of putting out a small plate of milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.


Now about Santa…in theory I don’t have a problem with him, and think it’s a cute idea to write him a letter, but so far my daughter has refused to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall, and I really don’t blame her. (Why is it that this is the one time of year it’s ok to encourage our children to sit on strange men’s laps?)

Standing with Santa
Standing with Santa

As for me, I admit that I have always had a warm feeling for Christmas. In my opinion, Jesus was a very devout and brilliant Jewish man. So why not celebrate his birth?

When it comes to tzedakah, my husband and I believe in that tenet always, and especially during the holidays when people can feel their lowest while surrounded by the abundance of others. To that end, my daughter will select various toys from her trove to donate to charity.

Above all, we fervently hope that the family rituals we have created for both Hanukkah and Christmas–and the soothing memories of these times of warmth, food, music, and ceremony–will find a permanent place in our daughter’s heart, imbuing her with the strength of spirit needed to traverse living in a multi-cultural world.

This article (slightly modified) originally appeared on Kveller



37 thoughts on “Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas Our Way”

  1. We have a Chrismukkah Eve party every year! Over the years a lot of tolerance and understanding have been taught at our table!

  2. Hi Estelle…I just popped over to your blog from the Midlife Boulevard linkup and have to congratulate you on finding a way to celebrate that works for you all. One of the big benefits (IMHO) of being a mid-lifer is that we’ve all been around long enough to have the courage to make it up in a way that works for the most joy, peace and meaning that works for us and those we love. Congratulations and happy “numerous” holidays to you and your family. ~Kathy

  3. It is such a good idea to take traditional days and make them special for your family.

  4. I think it’s wonderful that you’re celebrating both cultures and traditions! Your daughter will cherish those memories!

  5. Thank you for sharing all that you do! I love to see other family’s traditions and what they are doing to celebrate and create memories.

  6. My mom is jewish and my dad is catholic. I grew up in Staten Island where everyone around you was something different so I always loved being two things 😉 I married a catholic man and our children know nothing of religion (they think churches are grand castles) yet we have started so many of our own holiday traditions that promote togetherness and love! It’s all great!! Oh and my son won’t stop calling our menorah a menudo

  7. What a special post; I so enjoyed reading it. It’s wonderful that your child will grow up understanding and honoring both holidays.

  8. I have a friend who also celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas in her home. I think it’s great that you honor both cultures.

  9. I think that it’s great that you celebrate both since they both hold memories and traditions for you both. I’m sure you have to explain a lot to other people, but so what -you need to do what you feel comfortable with and what you & your family enjoy!

  10. i think its a wonderful thing to be able to embrace and celebrate two beautiful holidays in your family ! happy hanukkah (well, i guess i hope you had a happy hanukkah) and merry christmas!

  11. You are giving your child a wonderful feeling of love, comfort, support, and faith– the perfect holiday, no matter which one it may be.

  12. My aunt, who was Catholic at the time, married a Jewish man. Their arrangement was girls will be Catholic, boys will be Jewish. They had 2 sons! And now? One of my cousins is Catholic and one is Jewish, and my aunt? She’s now a Christian! So funny, but yes there were always Hannukah traditions at our family Christmases.

  13. Memories are the best part of Christmas. Warm fires and tight snuggles have a special place in our memories. My kids are teens, but even as young children they never really embraced Santa. We prefer to celebrate it as our Savior’s arrival in his earthly form. Hope you continue making wonderful memories.

  14. We celebrate both holidays, too. With Hanukah so early this year, it’s almost been easier on my brain.

  15. Your traditions are so heartwarming! You are giving your daughter a gift that will last a lifetime. P.S. Will you adopt me?

    1. Helene,
      You are so sweet. I think we have all “adopted” each other in our midlife way:)

  16. The holiday season is such a wonderful time for everyone, especially children. Your daughter will have special memories of how your family created your own rituals, and they will last a lifetime.

  17. I absolutely love that you celebrate both holidays! Now I must look up chocolate gelt – I don’t know what it is, but if it has anything to do with chocolate, it must be awesome! LOL!

    1. Jenn,
      Chocolate gelt looks like coins made of chocolate wrapped in tin foil in a mesh package if you can imagine that. Go for the dark chocolate ones-they are delicious.

  18. I’ve always believed, strongly, that it’s important to give our children a sense of tradition and faith, no matter what it is. I also believe that Jesus was a good Jew, and the rest of what religion takes from him is up to them. You are doing a mindful and powerful thing by offering your daughter a strong sense of faith and tradition. She will grow up inspired and grounded in both of your faiths. G-d bless you and your husband for setting forth a great start for a happy life for Crystal. Great post.

    1. Hi Cathy,
      Thank you. We can only do what we believe is best for us as a family and for our child. She looks forward to both holidays and it has very little to do with religion and much more to do with family rituals that have been created.

  19. Jen, This was posted on Kveller last year. It’s pretty easy to find though and there were quite a few comments.

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