As a kid, the winter holidays for me were confusing and delightful at the same time. I lit the candles for eight nights on Hanukkah, and then waited for Santa to bring me presents on Christmas. I could play dreidel with the best of them, but still knew every word to “Silent Night.”
It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realized how all those holidays could be defined – Chrismukkah became not only a word to explain my personal holiday season, but a sign that I’m not the only one out there with parents of mixed religions.
Of course the term is not mine to coin. Adam Brody on “The O.C.” presented the combination of the holidays on one episode and it instantly became a hit with my family. No more explaining to people that we don’t have a Christmas tree but a menorah, even though we celebrate both.
When my sister and I were younger, we would celebrate Hanukkah every year. Instead of stockings, my mom would fill what she called “Hanukkah buckets” with the same sort of stocking stuffers that could be found hanging over someone’s fireplace. She invented the “Hanukkah Bunny” because she liked the idea of having a character that would bring us presents just like Santa.
We would light the candles every night, read a prayer or two, sing “Rock of Ages,” then open presents. I think at the time my sister and I just wanted to skip the songs and get to the good stuff.
But now I appreciate that we have a specific routine we follow even though we’re older. The candles burn all night because it’s bad luck to blow them out. It’s believed that if all of the candles go out at the same time that the year ahead will be filled with good luck. Every year since I can remember, when the candles are nearly out we all watch with bated breath to see if the new year will bring good wishes.
It hasn’t happened yet.
Then when Christmas Eve arrived, we would spend the night at my grandparents’ house. They would have a tree that we had helped to pick out and to decorate. We conducted all of our Santa business in that house – leaving cookies and notes next to the fireplace. The next morning there would be presents galore.
We truly had the best of both worlds.
When I was younger, the best part was getting twice the presents. And while that part is still pretty rad, now I’m able to appreciate the gift our parents gave us that is so much more significant. We were able to embrace two cultures, two traditions and twice as many memories.
In school, I could be the token Jew who brought in a few Hanukkah books and explained to my class what the holiday was all about. I felt special and important bringing in gelt (chocolate coins) and explaining what felt like my own secret customs.
But at the same time I never felt different because I could still take part in the Christmas pageants at school with no qualms.
Chrismukkah has become the time of year that I accept the differences in various cultures. It’s when I appreciate houses with lights adorning their roofs and latkes (potato pancakes) with apple sauce on them. It’s when I smile at hearing Christmas carols on the radio and get excited when I can rifle through my Hanukkah bucket with treasures picked out lovingly by my mom.
Yes, Chrismukkah truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Erin Konrad, a junior journalism major, is arts editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.