I can’t say I have ever celebrated Hanukkah in the traditional way, but I did, however, grow up learning about and celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. My dad’s side of the family is Jewish. He grew up celebrating Hanukkah, receiving eight days of presents, and lighting the menorah. My mom, however, grew up going to church on Christmas Eve and opening her stocking bright and early on December 25th. They worked together to come up with ways that my sister, brother, and I could learn about and enjoy both holidays simultaneously, instead of choosing one or the other.
We always had a Christmas tree in our house, but we also lit the menorah. My parents loved taking us out to find the perfect tree and we loved to decorate it with all of the ornaments we had made at school. We also had the opportunity to enjoy Friday night dinners and light the menorah at my grandma’s house during Hanukkah time. In the years that Hanukkah fell around the same time as Christmas, our house would be extra bright from the candles burning on the menorah at the same time as the lights on the tree.
We knew the hymns and the prayers. We grew up going to a public elementary school in a small town where most everyone celebrated Christmas. We participated in our Christmas plays and assemblies and knew all of the Christmas-related music and lingo. On the Hanukkah side of things, lighting the menorah is always said with a prayer, which my siblings and I were taught from a very young age. Although we never went to synagogue, knowing and singing the prayers was an essential part of celebrating Hanukkah at home and with family.
Not only was celebrating both of these holidays a learning experience for my siblings and I but also for our friends at school. My mom would make potato latkes with us every year and bring them into our classrooms to serve to our friends from kindergarten to grade 8. Everybody loved them and couldn’t wait to eat them again next year. One of my brother’s classmates actually had his parents call my mom to ask for her recipe!
My family always found ways to tie in Hanukkah to our Christmas events. For example, my aunt has us over for Christmas cookie decorating every year. When she came across the menorah and Star of David cookie cutters, we had extra decorating to do and could share our sugar cookies with my dad’s side of the family. Christmas morning breakfast always includes potato latkes (instead of hash browns or the like) with a side of bacon, of course.
Now that my siblings and I have grown up and moved out, we can take on the holidays however we like. We know enough about both Hanukkah and Christmas to continue celebrating both on our own and to one day maybe teach our own kids about these holidays and how they differ. Now, living in a big, diverse city like Toronto, it’s so great to be able to understand the holidays and meaning behind other cultures. I’m happy that my parents made the decision to give us a background and understanding of both holidays while we were growing up. I love watching Christmas movies and listening to 24/7 Christmas songs on the radio during this time of year, but I wouldn’t give up potato latkes and watching the candles on the menorah burn for anything.
Photography by Ashley Posluns
Ashley is an Online Editor for onthedanforth.ca and a photographer for the On The Danforth summer edition. When she’s not binge-watching Gilmore Girls (or even when she is), she’s probably drinking tea, buying pens, or ordering free samples…. You can follow her on (any) social media @ashleyposluns, like twitter.