by Kimberlee MacVicar (Garfinkle)
For many families who bridge Christianity and Judaism, the fact that Christmas this year falls during the eight days of Hanukkah might create added seasonal stress — but it can also create a wonderful opportunity to combine traditions.
But let’s back up a second: for many Jewish/Christian households, there is something called the “December Dilemma."
Do we put up a tree even though we're raising the children Jewish because one spouse is missing the holiday he/she grew up with? Do grandparents want the children to celebrate their holiday over the one of the other grandparents? It can be delicate.
I am Jewish and married to a Catholic man. We agreed to raise our children Jewish. My husband finds the tree tradition wasteful, so he does not want one, but for other families it can be a bone of contention.
It’s legit to miss a key family tradition that you grew up with. It’s equally legit to feel uncomfortable putting up something symbolic in your home that represents a faith you don't identify with and that is well-represented outside the house.
With Christmas and Hanukkah overlapping on the calendar this year, I offer this tale of what happened with my in-laws last year. Maybe something similiar might work for other families.
My in-laws live in Orange County. A few weeks before Christmas my mother-in-law had knee surgery, and may father-in-law emailed asking for help planning Christmas dinner. I was put in charge.
Having never cooked a Christmas dinner before, but knowing many serve ham (oy), I asked my husband “what do you like to eat at Christmas?” I was stunned when he said that he really didn’t care for Christmas food, but preferred “Hanukkah food." Really? I wrote to his family with a sample menu and they all jumped at the chance to do something different.
So, our Christmas menu was:
Winter mixed green salad
Challah (my sister-in-law is a baker and makes excellent challah!)
brownies, cookies, chocolate gelt and other desserts
Latkes (probably the biggest hit of the dinner) with apple sauce and sour cream
I don’t believe any of them had ever eaten latkes before, so when we arrived with about 20 pounds of potatoes, onions, other ingredients, frying pans, a huge container of oil and a food processor, it’s an understatement to say my husband’s parents looked quite nervous.
My brothers- and sisters-in-law arrived early Christmas Day, and we began the task of making latkes. My mother-in-law tried to talk us out of it saying it looked like it was too much work and that eating potatoes fried in oil was “too many points,” but we soldiered on determined to have them.
It was a great bonding time hanging out by the skillets, drinking beer as the potatoes fried away. Since we only see these relatives once a year, this gathering was extra special. I was proud to introduce my in-laws to a piece of my heritage.
After dinner we played dreidel, a game they have never played before. It was absolutely hilarious to see how competitive they got and who had more chocolate gelt in front of them during the game. It was quite the bragging moment for the victor!
As family was leaving, they commented on how much they liked the food and thought this meal should be the new MacVicar Christmas Tradition. I was flattered and felt more a part of the family than before. The true feather in my cap on what we accomplished was the next morning when my mother-in-law awoke wanting to eat the leftover latkes and got upset when she discovered that her husband beat her to it and ate them!
May this story help families this year when these two holidays collide and the December Dilemma can be heightened more than other years.