My Jewish Christmas

Rothman (right) and her younger sister Sydney sit on Santa’s lap at a mall in Northbrook, Illinois, in 2000.

By Sam Rothman

It all started when my Jewish grandmother dragged home a pine tree branch when she was about six years old.

As a child, she watched black-and-white Christmas movies on TV, heard Christmas music on the radio and always wanted a chance to celebrate the holiday, but her parents weren’t quite sure of the perfect way to mesh both Hanukkah and Christmas together. It was then that the ongoing fascination with developing the perfect Jewish Christmas began.

My dad, who grew up in a relatively relaxed Jewish household, had bits of Christmas everywhere. They had a tree, presents from Santa Clause and even included the traditional Jewish tradition of Chinese food on Christmas to complete the perfect hybrid holiday.

Being the eager-to-please, good Jewish son my dad was groomed to become, he married a Catholic girl who celebrated Christmas in true Italian style. Her family’s Christmases made those of Tony Soprano’s family seem weak in comparison. There were at least seven different kinds of seafood, piles of presents and plenty of noise.

When my parents had kids, they were faced with the difficult decision on how to incorporate the traditional Chinese food dinner and also make us feel a part of something that could be a sweet, family scene from “The Godfather.”

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    My parents settled on what they considered to be the perfect blend. It was imperative that we had a Christmas tree, and that we have tons of presents under it — enough to account for Christmas as well as the eight days of Hanukkah. My parents also had a menorah for Hanukkah, although we would light all the candles on the same night to allow enough time for the Christmas festivities to also take place. This made our holiday equal parts Hanukkah to equal parts Christmas — a very difficult ratio to achieve.

    My sister and I were lucky enough to get to have every kind of holiday, festive chocolate imaginable in order to bring this interfaith fantasy to fruition. We had chocolate Santas, candy canes and gelt, too. The small gold chocolate coins were more of a delicacy in comparison to the dense chocolate filled Santas that inevitably took days to eat. It didn’t matter to us at the time; it was a reason for more candy.

    The music was a harder area to strike a balance. To this day, my dad stands by the fact that there isn’t a true Hanukkah song. Yes, there is that song about a dreidel, but that’s not really about Hanukkah. Thanks to Adam Sandler, and his infamous “Hanukkah Song,” it seemed as though Hanukkah had a little bit more of a fighting chance in this category. My parents also used this as an educational tool to teach my sister and me that Goldie Hawn and Paul Newman are also half-Jewish. That’s the stuff that sticks with you.

    There were some years we would spend the holidays with my mom’s family, which would allow for a much more traditional Christmas. It was fun, but it was definitely missing some spunk and personality from the lack of Christmas-Hanukkah fusion. Looking back, I’m glad my parents decided we should have a little bit of both — a traditional Christmas and a Jewish Christmas.

    Samantha is a sophomore in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].