The holidays are a time of magic. Being stuck inside a warm house with family, watching movies about magic and family as lights twinkle down the block feels like holiday time to me. I grew up loving Christmas and all of its magic, but not celebrating it. I’m Jewish, and instead, my family gave me the magic of Hanukkah. 

While we celebrated Hanukkah for eight nights, we would also gather in my grandmother’s basement for a big Hanukkah celebration with our big extended family. My grandma would make amazing potato latkes, we would spin dreidels, exchange gifts, and eat plenty of chocolate gelt. I look back at those memories fondly and wish I had my extended Jewish family here in Texas.  

As nice as those memories are now, as a child, I always wished I could celebrate Christmas. I’d trade in my eight nights of presents for one magic morning any day. I wished our house could be covered in lights and we had a tree to decorate. The *Nsync Christmas album gave me so much joy, I listened to it year round (partly because of my general *Nsync obsession). I wished we could decorate a tree and that Santa would visit our house too. It felt so magic that this jolly old man and his reindeer flew to the house of all the kids that celebrated Christmas and left presents under their tree. I wanted to be a part of it–the lights, the music, the magic of Christmas.

I grew up in the Northeast, in an area where there were many Jewish families. Even then, I wished for Christmas. Now, I live in Texas where Jewish families are in the minority. I married a wonderful Catholic man and all my Christmas dreams have come true. We have the tree, the lights, the music, and now–I feel alone.

In Texas, Christmas is it. In my daughter’s preschool, Santa visits and the kids make ornaments and Christmas cookies. There are a tree and lights but no menorah or “Happy Hanukkah” sign to be seen. In fact, I haven’t seen a “Happy Hanukkah” sign or menorah anywhere. While Christmas fills the Target aisles, they left a tiny shelf for a few Hanukkah decorations. I bought them for our house, but the Christmas lights shine brighter. Elfie, our elf on the shelf appears in various crazy places in the home, while our Mench on the Bench (the Hanukkah version) sits idle on our bookcase, unmoved, unacknowledged. Santa began to be talked about as soon as Thanksgiving ended.

As much as I add that presents may be from Santa or from Mommy and Daddy for Hanukkah, I think Hanukkah still takes my Chrismukkah Kid by surprise. Perhaps this is my own fault for not making it enough a part of her daily life, but it’s hard when it doesn’t surround us and my family and their traditions are far away.

Chrismukkah Kid
Chrismukkah Kid

While Christmas has all the built-in magic, I feel the magic of Hanukkah too. We may not have Mariah Carey classics, but I tear up every single time I hear Adam Sandler say, “there’s a lot of Christmas songs out there and not too many Hanukkah songs so I wrote this for all those nice little Jewish kids who don’t get to hear any Hanukkah songs.” My voice inside always yells out “I’m one of those nice little Jewish kids!” I rock out as hard as one can to Ben Kweller’s indie version of “Rock of Ages” (he’s a Texas native, no less).

Each year, I’ll re-tell my daughter the story of the Maccabees and how they persevered. I’ll tell her the story of her ancestors and how they persevered. I will tell her how my grandfather had to change his last name so people wouldn’t know he was Jewish. I will tell her how her great-great-grandmother and great-great-uncle just barely escaped from Russia. I will tell her how lucky we are that we are able to celebrate Hannukah freely and openly because it wasn’t always safe or legal. I will tell her how special it is that we get to celebrate both holidays because it is more time to gather with family, celebrate our traditions, and create new ones. 

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