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Chrismukkah - Blending Family Celebrations during Christmas and Chanukah

By Sharon Berton - 24th December 2011

Merry Chrismukkah: Jewish Christmas- kind of ...

There’s a good reason Americans wish each other Happy Holidays - it’s very inclusive. In Australia, we generally wish people a Merry Christmas regardless of what it is they might or might not be celebrating.

There are various cultural festivals on at this time of year, as well as hybrids. Take Chrismukkah, for example; this being the blending of Christmas and Chanukah for interfaith Christian/Jewish families. It’s gaining some momentum so if this is the first you’ve heard of Chrismukkah, it surely won’t be the last. Though interpreted individually and with poetic licence, it usually entails a 'Chrismukkah Bush'. Somewhat smaller than the traditional Christmas tree and festooned with a Star of David on top, dreidels and twinkling blue and white lights, there may be presents beneath it. The presents are a bit of extra 'Chanukah Gelt' (coins given to children for Chanukah) converted magically into gifts.

My own daughter, almost five, is currently paying great attention to all she hears about the various festivals and has many questions. At her childcare centre there’s a mix of cultures and staff try to acknowledge as many of these as possible. Along with the traditional Christmas tree and cards, they have also had a Chanukkia (special candelabra) and candles and lamps decorating the room for the Diwali festival. A few weeks ago the children celebrated by playing dress-ups in colourful saris. Fancy that: Chanukah and Diwali are both known as The Festival of Lights. The same but different. Christmas of course also features candles in its symbolism.

Recently my daughter came home from child care and excitedly told me she couldn’t wait until Santa came to her house. Erm. Time to chat. How was I to word this, so as not to cast any anti-Semitic aspersions upon the beloved fat man with the gift sack and sleigh? “Ah, sorry not for you, Santa doesn’t visit Jewish kids,”  would be a little harsh. I came up with: “Sweetheart, Jewish families are not on Santa’s map. We have Chanukah instead.”  She looked at me quizzically. She’s been caught up in the excitement and this little face read: 'Consolation Prize'.

At Chanukah children receive small gift bags of sweets with real or chocolate coins, eat traditional foods like grated potato latkes and play dreidel - a four-sided spinning top game. Small potatoes (pun intended) when for weeks a small girl’s been quietly scouring and wish-listing for Santa the toy catalogues that have stuffed our mailbox.

I grew up in a secular Jewish household, for the most part in the state school system. At home we didn’t have Christmas and we didn’t actively celebrate Chanukah much either. Real presents were just for birthdays and we had to suck it up. We loved seeing friends’ trees at their homes, watching Christmas TV specials - especially Carols by Candlelight as I was in love with Humphrey Bear from the word go. It was a bit tricky but we knew it was not ‘for us’.

As a minority kid, answering those who asked us why we don’t celebrate Christmas was uncomfortable, because even when we did explain it was met with a blank expression or a comment such as “ripped off!” But things are evolving. As a society we’re becoming more aware of the traditions of others. Also, today Chanukah for the secular is becoming a little more purchase-driven, because this is the culture we are immersed in. Gen X parents feel bad for our kids if they may be  feeling 'left out'. Luckily for us we have a November boy and January girl and some of those circled items make it onto the birthday wishlist instead.

By the time I was working I remember that dread of anti-climactic nothingness when everyone broke up for the year. They all had so many plans, errands and events. For me it was welcome time off, but too quiet, with hardly anyone around to enjoy it with!

These days on Christmas Day we generally have a picnic barbecue day out with family friends in  similar circumstances. Rather than sit independently in our own homes it’s a great day to catch up. In a very Aussie way we have a male-dominated cook-up, play cricket and let the kids run around. And with a beer or a glass of wine, we laughingly toast to “Jewish Christmas”.

Does anyone else have any slightly untraditional end-of-year traditions?

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