Jewish Fun - Interfaith Chrismukkah

Interfaith Fun

Hanukkah is no Substitute for Christmas

Yes, growing up Jewish has been interesting.

I’ve related the “Birthday during Passover” story and the culture clash surrounding how to prepare Italian food anecdote but presented here is the tale of Interfaith Chrismukkah.

Let me begin with a confession, I am both a cohein and essentially a non-practicing Jew. I married a Catholic Irish/Italian girl almost 18 years ago and never looked back. We had determined to do both religions in the house and we have. My daughter was brought up Catholic, my son has been brought up Jewish, but they both get to experience both religions holidays and cultures. It was the best compromise we could come up with. My wife is perfectly willing to do anything inherently Jewish that I ask, but it doesn’t mean she understands what that actually entails.

Case in Point:
Christmas and Hanukkah are not alike. They may happen at the same time of year but they are not the same holiday and they can’t be handled the same way (if you need a more humorous explanation of these differences, go get Lewis Black's album called Anticipation and listen to his rants on Christmas and Hanukkah). My wife grew up celebrating Christmas with all of the household decorations inside and outside of the house. You’ve seen the movies about this type of person and she certainly fits that mold. She likes putting the lighted trees and blowup people on the lawn, hanging icicle lights from the awning, putting up the tree and decorating the inside of the house, things like that. I, of course, didn’t grow up with any of that. Hanukkah decorations consisted of a Happy Hanukkah sign hung from the fireplace mantle, a crepe paper dreidel hanging from the ceiling and maybe a life-size drawing of a Maccabee (this must have been a Hebrew School project of my brother's since I didn't make it!) on the front door. Of course we had a Menorah in the window but that was about it.

Fast forward to the new couple in their apartment trying to figure out what to put up for the holidays. A new tree was bought, the Precious Moments Sugar Town train was set up around the tree. Many new ornaments were bought for the new tree (or given to us as presents over the first year of our marriage). But when it came to Hanukkah decorations my wife was stumped. I WAS NOT. I told her there really wasn’t anything to buy – we really didn’t put up decorations. My wife did not believe me. She figured that was just the way it was in my parent’s house. She spent several days looking for any kind of light up decorations for Hanukkah – to no avail. I gently tried to explain that Hanukkah, while being a celebration of the miracle of lights, was not a high holiday and wasn’t celebrated with the types of decorations she was used to for Christmas.

That didn’t matter to her at all.

She was determined to find Hanukkah related lights. And you know what – she did find them. She bought a set of dreidel lights but the dreidels were so large, you couldn’t effectively put them in a window. We put them up with suction cups and tape, lots of tape, and they stayed in place most of the time. They were so heavy though, they would eventually fall out of the window. This set of lights lasted about 3 years.

Over time, we moved into a house and had our kids. The need to try to make the holidays equal drove my wife to buy all sorts of Hanukkah related things that did not exist when I was a child. Dish towels, bath towels, placemats even Hanukkah ornaments for our tree. We actually have quite a few ornaments now. While I don’t believe Jewish people are into the “Hanukkah bush” idea, I do think interfaith marriages are driving more products to be created to help crossover between religious holidays. She would wrap the pictures hanging in the house as presents with both Christmas and Hanukkah wrapping paper and essentially bought anything Hanukkah related she could find. We now have all sorts of things out at holiday time that even my Jewish friends can’t believe. The stuff exists, but you really need to do some research to find it. The funniest thing for me to hear, even to this day, is when my wife finds some decoration she wants for the house for Christmas, but can’t find a corresponding Hanukkah decoration. She curses up a storm and calls places demanding to know where the Hanukkah-related merchandise is. It’s sweet and I’m happy she tries, but I’ve had to explain that this is just the way it is and to except it.

I’ll give you an example. Many years ago, Disney offered a product that consisted of a stuffed Winnie the Pooh holding a banner in front of him that could be personalized for the holidays. He was dressed in a Santa suit or a blue, Jewish-themed Hanukkah pair of pajamas. You could personalize the banner for the appropriate holiday. We have these, both kinds for both kids. When we went to create the Hanukkah version for a Jewish friend’s newborn baby a few years later, the product didn’t exist in any catalog we could find. And it was gone. A phone call to Disney confirmed they no longer made the personalized Pooh for Hanukkah. My wife was outraged. I, of course, wasn’t surprised.

Like I said, Hanukkah is not like Christmas but it has been fun watching my wife try to make them "even" within the house.

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