Acceptance and Change: The Evolution of Family Holiday Traditions

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I live in a small beach town in New Jersey and as my profile states, no, I do not know Snooki. I don't lunch with any of the Real Housewives of New Jersey either. Although, I'd love to be their personal Pilates instructor, so if anyone has an in, let me know.

It's Christmas time. The holiday season. I get it. But what's sometimes forgotten is that this includes Chanukah. Or as some know it, "the festival of lights." Or, as kids, we in the tribe knew it as eight guaranteed presents! It's such a cliche but, compared to the pomp and pageantry of Christmas, the festival of lights kind of blew.

However, as an adult, I've come to dig the ceremonial candle lighting, now that I finally understand the meaning of Chanukah. (It was pretty lost on me until I had to explain it to my boyfriend's son.) And now, as the Girlfriend Mom, I spread the guaranteed eight presents tradition to the kids. My boyfriend's son insists on lighting the candles. I'm touched, but I think he does so because matches and fire have sparked his inner pyromaniac. He's thirteen. It's a right of passage.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, beach town. The decorations are up on the lawns, porches and storefronts. People sure do love their inflatable Santas and nativity scenes. And god bless. If someone wants to blow up a baby Jesus, who am I to judge. But what I have noticed is this: I do not live in a Jewish neighborhood. I'm cool with that, sort of. Am I really asking too much to see one inflatable Menorah?

Trail Of Lights #19

People's own homes are one thing but what about the storefronts? It feels a wee strange not to see Menorahs in the windows, or a friggin' dreidel. Isn't it a bit unfair, especially since Chanukah overlaps with Christmas this year? There's a Jewish deli on one of the corners, and there's bubkis in the window.

All holidays should get equal stage time.

Full disclosure. Accepting a Christmas tree and decorations in the house in which I now live with my Portuguese lover (read: not a Jew) has been a process. Truth be told, from a style and taste perspective, I'm not a huge fan of standard fair tree ornaments or holiday pillows. I do like the lights, though. This is because of the further disclosure below.

Further disclosure. We, my Jewish family and I, used to celebrate Christmas. Oh, yeah, we were those reformed Jewish families that you might have heard about. We lived in a two bedroom apartment and my dad always brought home a tree, whose top branches just brushed the ceiling. I never questioned this tradition and I certainly didn't question the Christmas presents under the tree, in addition to the eight Chanukah presents.

As years went on, our ginormous Christmas tree became a Chanukah bush. I never really understood that. The bush part I mean. Like a burning bush? My dad was slowly finding his Jewish roots, and we were slowly losing our Christian Christmas. If you ask my mom why we celebrated Christmas, she'll say that it was never a religious celebration but rather an opportunity to decorate. And wrap. The woman is an expert gift wrapper.

We no longer had the glass balls -- that would break if you breathed on them -- or tinsel. Gone were untangling the lights to be hung around the tree, that often brought about curse words, and several, "Why are we doing this? We're Jewish!"

They were replaced by artsy and whimsical ornaments, usually made out of wood. We had moved to a bucolic and country town, and my mom thought that stringing popcorn and ornaments from Amish people were less "Chistmassy." She was in friggin denial.

By the time I was in college, Christmas consisted of stacking presents in an antique (wood) sleigh. How country chic of mom. My dad had had enough of trees and bushes, and a few years later, we found our way back to an artsy, country and whimsical menorah. At some point, it just didn't feel right to be celebrating Christmas. It's funny how that happens.

Cut to present day. My brother married an Italian and Scottish woman, and my nephews celebrate Christmas, just like my brother and I did when we were their age. And now I celebrate Christmas (just the decorating part) with my boyfriend and his kids. It's still an ongoing process of acceptance, in spite of my upbringing.

But this is what couples do, right. I'm sure Katie Morosky and Hubbell Gardner (The Way We Were) celebrated Christmas and Chanukah. Of course they ended up divorcing, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't over Chanukah gelt.

If I can light the candles in my new bicycle menorah, then my boyfriend can hang his climbing Santa, that rings, sings, rattles and shakes. Because that's tolerance and love.

Photo Credit: tsarkasim.

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