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Christmukkah: Lighting Your Own Path of Tradition

As soon as Thanksgiving ends, the decorations go up, the stores begin to fill with people and magic settles in the air. The Holiday Season is here yet again! For some families, that means lighting a Menorah and for others, setting up a tree; for many families around the world, though, it means doing both. These combinations of tradition and faith look different in every family -- Haley and Candice grew up in different states, not knowing each other, but both come from interfaith families. Find out below what celebrating the season is like for them.

Why did your family choose to celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas?

Haley: Growing up, we always celebrated both Holidays because my mother's side of the family is Jewish and my father's side is Christian. My husband and his family celebrate Christmas, so I still celebrate both Holidays as an adult. I, like Candi, focus more on the traditions of Christmas, rather than the religious roots.

Candice: My father was Jewish and my mother always identified as a methodist. Now, I am the Jewish one in my family and my partner is Catholic. It made sense to us to combine the traditions so that no one would have to give up their own identity in the relationship. The basis of Hanukkah is part of the Christian biblical canon and it doesn't conflict with the belief systems of anyone in the relationship. I choose to focus on the traditions of Christmas, not so much its religious roots, but Jewish people believe that Jesus existed, so celebrating his day of birth doesn't feel ingenuine.

What was it like growing up with both Holidays?

Haley: I mean, as a young kid it was awesome, because it meant more presents and fun games! 8 days for one Holiday and two for the other (2 because my mom let us open one gift on Christmas Eve every year)! We only really celebrated Hanukkah with my mom's parents and they did tend to spoil us, because we were the only grandkids. Other than that, of course, it was really cool to learn the meaning of both Holidays and spend that time with family every year. I don't really remember being treated differently for celebrating Hanukkah, but there definitely wasn't equal representation of both Holidays in schools, on T.V., etc., which is still pretty much the case today. I struggle to find Hanukkah decorations in my area of Texas.

Candice: Growing up being raised both Jewish and Christian had its perks, but was also a little frustrating. I feel like kids who didn't celebrate Chanukah didn't understand why I was doing both and my Jewish friends couldn't understand why we had a tree. Straddling the line of both means that you get double the experience, but also means you're a little on the outside of it, too. For me, there was definitely the feeling of not being "Jewish enough" or "Christian enough." My family didn't really attend services at organized religious institutions, so the most exposure we had to religion was through Holidays. We always lit the Menorah, told the story of the Maccabees, put up a tree and waited for Santa. We didn't get double the presents like some other Interfaith kids did, but we did get a little gift for Hanukkah and the majority of our presents on Christmas.

Do you still choose to celebrate both Holidays? How has the season changed or stayed the same for you as an adult and starting your own family?

Haley: I do still celebrate both Holidays, but for a long time, I lost my way with my Jewish side. I would say 'Happy Hanukkah' and post about it on social media, but I wasn't lighting the Menorah or anything. As I've grown up more, I feel a pull towards that side of my family's history. I want to learn more and celebrate along with the Jewish Holidays and traditions. The past few years, I've made sure to light the Menorah, whether alone or with friends/family. I have very supportive friends like Carly and Kristian, who've hosted Passover or Hanukkah celebrations for me and helped me connect more with my Jewish side. My favorite is when I get to visit my grandparents during the Holiday and celebrate it with them. I celebrate Christmas with my family, my brother's family, friends and my husband's family.

Carly and Kristian hosting Hanukkah celebrations for Haley

Candice: We do still celebrate both! Now that I'm an adult, I'm the only Jewish one in my family, so it's now my responsibility to bring Chanukah to life for my kids and partner. I want my children to feel just as excited about their Jewish side as they do their Christian side. I love Holidays; the motto in my house is "Holidays are just so much better than regular days,” so I'm known to go all out with decorating and fitting as many Holiday festivities in as we can. In our house, the dreidels can be found right above the Christmas stockings and the Menorah sits next to the tree (a safe distance away!). We go to both tree and Menorah lightings put on by the community and try to devote equal time to both Holidays.

Candi celebrating and representing both Holidays with her family

What are your favorite Christmas Celebrations?

Haley: My favorite Christmas celebration as a kid was opening that one gift on Christmas Eve with my brother. We had to pick the perfect one for our 'Eve gift,' which, for the two of us, was almost always the biggest present in the room. I also loved the stockings that my mom would prepare for us; she still gives me the best stockings to this day! Another celebration I loved as a kid was watching 'A Christmas Story' on Christmas Eve with my family. Now, as an adult, it's all about spending time with both my family and friends. My favorite thing, though, is being able to find the perfect gift for each person. I usually have to shop at the last minute, though, because I get so excited that I cannot wait to give someone their gift and see their reaction.

Haley celebrating Christmas as a child!

Candice: We're a very competitive household, so decorating gingerbread houses is a competition, judged by Facebook friends, with the submissions anonymous. I'm so serious about this that I made the rest of my partner's family bring gingerbread houses to the Dominican Republic a couple years back, when we were there for Christmas. There are whole neighborhoods in San Diego that commit to putting up decorations each year; they make a big deal and play Christmas music and give away hot chocolate while you walk around for hours looking at the lights. I also love to bake, so we make homemade cookies for Santa every year. We read the kids 'The Night Before Christmas' on Christmas Eve and, once they've gone to bed, my partner and I watch 'It's a Wonderful Life' while we wrap gifts. We wake up the next morning and open presents and eat cinnamon rolls. Starting these traditions with my kids has been a huge deal for me, since my family was never close growing up. I want them to have the best memories of their childhood and the Holiday season always provides that little extra magic of togetherness.

What are your favorite Chanukah Celebrations?

Haley: My favorite Hanukkah celebration as a kid was playing Dreidel with my brother for chocolate coins (Hanukkah Gelt)! Honestly, I still love to play Dreidel with my friends and, of course, we still play with chocolate coins -- because...duh, you have to! Haha

I also loved to light the Menorah as a kid with my grandparents. I tried to say the prayers in Hebrew, but I remember I always struggled with this. I still struggle with it today and tend to lean more on the English translations. As an adult, I still love lighting the Menorah and having a feast with friends and family. Now that I'm in my late 20's, Jewish Holidays have a more special place in my heart and I want to make sure I'm celebrating them the way I should be.

Candice: We love lighting the candles on the Menorah and seeing the warm glow of the lights. Chanukah is also a time when we eat lots of fried food to symbolize the oil that lasted 8 nights. Jelly donuts are always very traditional, but our house likes to go to the artisan donut shop for our favorite flavors. We also have a family Dreidel game night that my sons really love, because they get to gamble with chocolates. We usually try to attend Menorah lightings at different places and go to the December Nights festival, which lets you see how different December Holidays are celebrated across the world. We also go to the House of Israel, which has really amazing latkes. We always read 'Sammy Spider's Chanukah,' a family favorite.

Do you feel like you have more of a connection with one religion or set of traditions?

Haley: Growing up, I felt more connected to Christmas as a whole, but like I said earlier in this article, I'm feeling drawn to Hanukkah and other Jewish Holidays more now as an adult. I definitely feel more connected to Hanukkah traditions vs. Christmas ones. I love lighting the Menorah and will always make time for it and, like I mentioned above, LOVE playing Dreidel.

Candice: As a kid, I really didn't feel a connection to any religion. Despite celebrating Holidays, we weren't a religious household growing up. When I became an adult, I moved across the country and cut off contact with my parents; it was then that I decided to go to the Synagogue by my house. I'd been put in a Baptist Children's home when I was 14 and had a really bad experience with religion at that point, but being in the Synagogue was completely different. In Judaism, you're supposed to question your religion -- and the services where I went were set up to be a discussion, not just someone preaching at you. I absolutely loved that and really connected with the belief systems I hadn't fully learned as an adolescent. My Rabbi told me that the things we're told to do as Jews are not a requirement or judge of our commitment, but rather a way to honor the traditions of our ancestors. That reconnection to the past became really important to me after I found out a couple years later that I had been adopted. Despite growing up in an interfaith family, I really found Judaism for myself and feel an honest relationship with it now.

Are there any other Holidays that your family combines?

Haley: I cannot think of any other Holidays that my family "combines." I celebrate Jewish Holidays like Hanukkah, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Other Holidays that I celebrate include New Years, Thanksgiving, 4th of July and Christmas. Of course, I also recognize Veterans Day and Memorial Day by thanking those in my family who have served or are currently serving. I celebrated Easter as a kid, but don't celebrate it much as an adult (although my mom definitely makes the best Easter baskets). I hated Valentine's Day growing up and, even now that I'm married, I still hate it. I recognize most Holidays, but I just don't celebrate all of them. Holidays tend only to mean a day off from work nowadays, rather than something that involves an elaborate celebration.

Candice: Easter and Passover fall around the same time and are big Holidays in our house; again, we embrace more of the common cultural traditions of Easter than the religious ones. We have a big feast for Passover, but not really for Easter, unless we're around my partner's family. Passover is a huge Holiday in Judaism and Easter is a fun one for the kids. We celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year), Yom Kippur and then the traditional American Holidays. The only other Catholic Holiday we celebrate is Dia De Los Muertos.

Any last thoughts you want to leave our readers with?

Haley: You may not celebrate both Holidays, but those around you and possibly some of the people you love may, so I just ask you to be considerate. It's okay to celebrate something different and it's so amazing that we can learn from one another. The Holidays should be about the time we spend with those we love, not just about gifts. The Holidays may look and feel different this year, but we can all still create lasting memories and spend time with the people we love most. I hope you all have a very Happy Holidays and stay safe!

Candice: Both Holidays are beautiful and there are so many other winter Holidays people celebrate around the world that are just as beautiful. Whatever your reason for the season is, everyone should be safe to share their traditions and religions. Enjoy the time with the people you love (safely) and look out for those in need. May this season bring you peace, joy and hopefully a little magic too. Happy Holidays.

Whatever your Holiday Season is like, we celebrate the beauty in the differences and in the connection of our traditions. Regardless of religion or practices, this is a time to reset and relax from work and school. We hope your season is full of light, love, and joy.

From all of us here at FTF Media, Happy Holidays!

- Candi (@Candi_Lee_Bell) & Haley (@CSIHALEY)

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