More celebration stories

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/22/05

My wife, Suzanne, and I have been married for 16 years. I am Jewish and Suzanne is Irish Catholic.

While we are raising our two children . Rachel, 15, and Christopher, 13 . Catholic, we have made a conscious effort to expose our children to both religions. At the holiday time, our home has all the Christmas decorations that you would expect to see including a live tree, Spode dinnerware and lots of wreaths, garland and poinsettias. We also proudly display a menorah.

Ironically, my sister, Robin, is also married to an Irish Catholic (who has since converted to Judaism) but her two children are being raised in the Jewish faith. Since we have been married, Robin has been responsible for hosting the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kipper and Passover, which are the holiest holidays in the Jewish religion.

From the first year we were married, Suzanne graciously offered to celebrate Hanukkah at our house. Over the years, the celebration has grown from a small family gathering of our two families (my parents have lived in Florida for more than 20 years, so they do not attend) to a much larger gathering that now includes some of Suzanne's family and our friends (both Jew and Gentile).

Over the past few years, 20-25 people have attended our typical Hanukkah celebrations. All the traditional holiday fare is served, including latkes, matzo ball soup, kugel, brisket and noodle pudding. Suzanne does all the cooking herself, which requires days of preparation but only takes about 20 minutes to consume. According to my nephew, Suzanne's brisket is the best. The meal always gets rave reviews. An invitation to Hanukkah is highly sought after by the families of Suzanne's five brothers and sisters.

This year's celebration presented a dilemma for us. The first night of Hanukkah is Christmas day and it is our family's turn to host Christmas this year. Christmas dinner for Suzanne's family means preparing a holiday meal for at least 33 people. After much discussion, we think that we have come up with a reasonable solution: We are inviting my sister for Christmas and plan on including some of the traditional Hanukkah meal as part of our Christmas dinner. This year, brisket and latkes will be included on the Christmas table.

Allan Shur

We have five children with two mixed marriages. I am Jewish and we have 10 grandchildren.

It is important for the grandchildren to be aware of both holidays. This year we are celebrating Hanukkah at my son's house in Howell. We get lists of what the grandchildren, whose ages range from 5 to 18, would like.

We also have one daughter and two grandchildren living in Kansas. We try to send gifts on time for both holidays.

Stuart Leyden
Ocean Township

When we married 15 years ago (I am Catholic and my wife is Jewish), the holidays were very important to us. We agreed that we would take the fondest holiday traditions from each of our past and create new blended holiday traditions that we could cherish for years to come.

Today we have two children, ages 12 and 8, and "Christmukkah'' has become a great tradition in our house. Our house is festively decorated with all the trimmings and symbols of both holidays including a Christmas tree, a menorah, along with both Christmas and Hanukkah stockings. The children also get into the act, decorating their bedrooms in festive Christmukkah motif.

We celebrate Hanukkah the traditional way, exchanging gifts each night after our children help my wife recite the Hanukkah prayer and light a candle on the menorah. Making the perfect potato latkes has become my mission every year. After years of perfecting the recipe, my Jewish mother-in-law has finally given me her approval.

Being from Italian decent, Christmas is celebrated with the 3 F's: fish, food and fun. Keeping in mind the reason for the season, we go to Christmas Mass so our children can learn and understand the true meaning of the holiday. Santa arrives Christmas morning and the gifts are once again plentiful.

It has been such a joy for us to be able to embrace and celebrate Christmukkah in our house over the years, enjoying each others holiday and traditions, and being able to pass those traditions along to our children.

Mario and Michelle Lupia

After many years of marriage, celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah simultaneously for a Roman Catholic wife and a Jewish husband has become a breeze. One must divide the holidays into three parts (like All Gaul).

Symbolic: Our tree stands in the living room, and the menorah is in the dining room.

Gifts: No problems here. All children and grandchildren are cared for. Note that half of the children and grandchildren have chosen one religion or the other.

Religiosity: This is the toughest, but we have learned over the years how to cope. Fortunately, I am a Reform Jew and do not abide by the tenets of Glatt Kosher and my wife is an excellent cook. Attendance at both church and synagogue presents no problem.

Incidently, I recommend the most humorous play I have ever seen, "My Father is Jewish. My Mother is Italian. I'm in Therapy'' with Steven Solomon.

Religion is part of our lives, and although we choose different paths to communicate with the Supreme Being, we seek to attain the same goal.

Seymour Kuvin
Toms River

Our family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas.

Myself being raised in a Roman Catholic home and my husband being raised in a Jewish home, we have decided to enrich our the lives of our four children with the aspects of both of our religions. We chose this way for the reason that we would like our children to be able to choose what religion they would like to be, or enjoy both.

Each year we decorate our home with both a Christmas tree and a menorah. My husband will light the candles each night of Hanukkah with our children present to hear the prayers he recites. Our in-laws have Hanukkah dinner in their home for us and give gifts from "Grandma and Grandpa Hanukkah.''

On Christmas morning, we celebrate the Catholic holiday as a regular Christian family would. Although we have not introduced our children to the church or to Jewish services, they are aware of why we celebrate each holiday the way we do and they love being lucky enough to learn and celebrate the holidays and practices of both the Catholic and Jewish religions.

Christie Kaplan
Freehold Township

Growing up in Belmar, my family always had a menorah and a Christmas tree. There was a gift every night on Hanukkah and even more gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. It wasn't about religion as much as it was about two different ethnic backgrounds that had evolved into several loving families that changed their lifestyles for the good of the family.

My maternal great-grandmother had come to America from Germany at the turn of the century. She was a Kruschka and married a Cohen. She decided to convert to Judaism for her husband and from that day on, the Jewish religion was always celebrated at the holidays, but there was always Christmas decoration and tradition in the background.

The Cohen family would have two daughters and three sons. One son, Jerome, converted to Catholicism and changed his name to Collins when he married an Italian. One daughter, Helen, would marry a non-Jew and also convert. My Uncle Jerry would always dress up as Santa on the holidays and bring presents to my brother, Louis, and myself every Christmas. My brother and my two cousins would always go to our Aunt Helen and Uncle Virgil's home in Deal and decorate the Christmas tree.

At the same time, the other Cohen children married within the Jewish religion. My grandmother, Georgia, married a Silverstein, and she continued the Jewish traditions, mixed in with some of her mother's Christmas traditions. We would spin the dreidel and light the menorah, but we would also have coal in our hand-knitted stockings and plenty of gifts under the tree.

My mother, Gail, would make tons of Christmas cookies and my father, Bill, would eat them. It was not about religion as much as it was about tradition. Our family always celebrated the Jewish faith, but we didn't want to forget the ethnic background from where our ancestors came. Whether this was done consciously or not, it enriched the holidays even more.

My paternal grandfather would also dress up as Santa Claus and not only did that give us more gifts, but we also had a skinny Jewish Santa Bram and a heavy used-to-be-Jewish-but-since-converted-to-Catholicism-Santa Cohen/Collins.

Who could ask for anything more? Well, I guess I could.

Because somewhere along the line, my life would come full circle.
We weren't a very religious family and I guess some of our traditions became more commercialized over time. Now that I am married to an Israeli . I might not ever see a Christmas tree again in my home . my Jewish heritage and celebration of the holidays is becoming more enriched.

While my brother's two daughters are being raised as Catholics, their blood is still rich in Judaism and I think that is what is important to remember: The holidays are not as much about religion as they are about family. And the fact that we can celebrate our different traditions together is what makes Christmas and Hanukkah so special for me and my family.

Benjamin E. Bram
Spring Lake Heights

This is our first holiday together and I can hardly wait to see how others make this all "click.''

I have always put up my little artificial tree and a small amount of Christmas decorations on Thanksgiving weekend while Mitch rarely did any Hanukkah decorating. I think he was a little surprised by how infectious my enthusiasm is.

Days before Thanksgiving, I pulled my tree out of the basement and tried to find a spot where a four-foot tree would not look ridiculous in the big living room with vaulted ceilings and open floor plan. Putting the tree on small tables and large stereo speakers did no good, so we decided we needed a 7 1/2-footer. Having a fairly large tree left me feeling that we would have to add more Hanukkah decorations to "even things out.''

With these decisions made, we needed to go shopping. There are numerous places to buy any size and style Christmas tree, but finding Hanukkah decorations was more of a challenge. We did get a lighted menorah and Jewish star for the windows on either side of the tree as well as a string of lights and some garland. This was just enough when combined with his old paper decorations to balance things a bit.

For the front lawn, we decided the best compromise was winter lights. Some lighted snowflakes, blue lights on an outdoor tree and colored lights on a nearby bush brightened things nicely without worrying about competition between "my'' lights and "his.''

Christmas Eve will be a cozy night with a fire burning while we watch old Christmas movies. Early Christmas morning we will open presents, and Sunday afternoon will be a small family dinner of kielbasa and ham.

On Monday, we go to his sister's for a traditional latke dinner with family. We will host dinner one of the other nights of Hanukkah. We will also celebrate Yule with his daughter during this busy, exciting, wonderful holiday season.

I am getting quite an education on the differences and similarities in holiday traditions and celebrations. The main ingredient no matter what you celebrate is the special people you get to share with.

Mary Tracy

My partner and I have celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah as a biritual holiday for the past 13 years. He is a South African Jew and I am a Polish Catholic. We met as adults and brought into our relationship two constellations of family and friends who have melded into a marvelous universe of affection, respect and deep spirituality.

For us both, these holidays epitomize the meaning of family and Christmas. And as a gay couple, we are fortunate also to have an extended of family of "choice'' who also share in our holidays' festivities.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was always more important in my family than Christmas day primarily because of the richness of the tradition and the meagerness of money available for presents for a family of seven.

Wigilia was our Christmas Eve dinner. It was meatless and filled with aromas and tastes specific to this once-a-year meal and always had an odd number of dishes in honor of the Three Kings. The table was set with hay beneath the white tablecloth and under each child's plate was usually a shiny coin . . . better years yielding a quarter and lesser ones a dime.

We usually have a number of children at our celebration and it gives them the opportunity to learn about the traditions of both religions through shared stories, Hanukkah songs, Christmas carols in both English and Polish, and candle-lighting rituals. And as in the past, our Christmas-Hanukkah celebration focuses on the Wigilia meal and has become a blending of Christian and Jewish traditions.

Once all our guests have arrived, we gather and remember why the holidays are so important to us. We give thanks for our lives, our friendships and for the blessings of light in this holy season. "Baruch ata Adonai'' is sung while the menorah candles are lit, and then "Silent Night'' while the Christmas candles around the creche are lit.

The youngest members of the group are then given "Oplatek,'' or Holy Bread, similar to the communion wafer, which they distribute to all the guests. When everyone has a piece of the wafer, each person turns to every other person and breaks off a small piece of the other's wafer and eats it and wishes that person a peace-filled holiday. Lastly, we all join hands and remember in particular all those people who have died and we welcome their spirits and promise to live our lives
even more fully because they have showed us how to love.

And now we come to the Wigilia table, which for us is an amalgam of Polish, Jewish and South African dishes. Everything is homemade and all have a special meaning for the holiday. Several dishes are prepared for that night only and remain only a memory until next Christmas Eve.

After dinner, my partner and I distribute gifts to all our guests as a way of saying thanks for being with us and for making our lives so rich. And just as everyone leaves, we give them a final gift of homemade cookies laid out on special dishes we collect throughout the year. This year, there will be 31 different types of cookies . an odd number again to honor the Three Kings of the Christmas story.

This will be our last Christmas in our home in Asbury Park. We are moving to Cape Town, South Africa, to retire in September 2006. This Christmas Eve will be even more special for us and we are looking forward to it with great anticipation.

Once again, we will be able to say to our family and friends, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and may all the days of our lives be as bountiful as our Wigilia table.

Tom Pivinski and Malcolm Navias
Asbury Park

I met my husband in college and we dated for quite some time. Certain circumstances led to our breakup but we got back together a few years later. I realized then that he was "the one.'' There was just one little obstacle, though: He came from a very strict Irish Catholic background and I grew up a Jewish girl from Marlboro.

I do not consider myself to be very religious, but I am a huge traditionalist. I absolutely knew that I wanted to raise a Jewish family. I didn't want my husband to convert or lose his identity but he needed to know that if we did get married his children's religion would be different from his own. He was fine with it then, he was fine with it during our wedding ceremony and after 11 years of marriage and two beautiful children later, he is still fine with the decision that he made.

Both of our sons went to Shaari Emeth Early Learning Center for preschool. It was there that they were taught all of the beautiful prayers, songs and holiday traditions that the Jewish faith has to offer. For a few years, we even celebrated Shabbat dinners with friends that are as close to us as family.

Every Hanukkah since my first son was born I have hosted a Hanukkah party. My sons are blessed to have a great-grandmother still alive, so she attends along with maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. My mother makes a delicious brisket and, as far as I'm concerned, the best potato latkes around. It is a great day and the boys are growing up with a wonderful family tradition and they are definitely aware that they are being brought up in a Jewish home.

However, there is still something so magical and special about Christmastime. Just so my husband doesn't feel left out and feel like he is missing something, we created another tradition. We decided to embrace the "it's what you give, not what you receive'' philosophy of the holiday season.

Every year since we moved into this house, we set aside two days in December and we bake cookies for some of our neighbors, family and friends. We have seen neighbors come and go but we stay true to this tradition. After we pack up the cookies in tins, we then pack up the boys in the car and we deliver the cookies together as a family. This shows our boys how great it feels to give something without expecting anything in return. On Christmas Eve, we load up the car and head up north.

My mother-in-law lives in Massachusetts and this is where the boys get to celebrate the joys of Christmas. Christmas doesn't come to them . we bring them to Christmas. Her house is all decorated and the tree is beautifully lit. The house smells delicious because she has been baking and cooking for weeks.

On Christmas day, the boys wake up to presents under the tree. They can't wait to tear open the presents to see what Santa has brought for them. The older they get, my mother-in-law tries to teach them the meaning of Christmas. They don't go to church, but they will learn to respect that this holiday is not all about getting gifts.

I am happy that right now in their lives they get to grab hold of the magic of Christmas. Who knows how many years of wonder are left until they start asking questions, and then all the magic will be gone? Jewish or Catholic, I feel like Christmas can truly be a day for everyone. It's just so special when you get to see it through the eyes of a child.

My husband and I feel truly blessed with our family. Everyone told us how hard it is going to be to have two different religions in a marriage. I feel my children are growing up with the best of both worlds. Sometimes I feel more religious then families with all one religion because we have to work that much harder to keep the Jewish faith alive.

I also get to make extra brownie points with my mother-in-law because she never has to share us with my side of the family for Christmas. She gets us all to herself every year for the rest of our lives.

Lisa Mackesy

My family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah.

The entire side of the family on my mother's side celebrates all the Catholic holidays, most prominently Christmas. My father's side of the family is the typical conservative Jewish family. They celebrate all the Jewish holidays, while consistently attending synagogue.

While both sides of my family have different religions, they have all come down the line to my current family, which celebrates both. My parents have two different faiths, and so celebrating only one holiday at the end of the year would not justify our family's values. This is why I celebrate both holidays, and this is why I love this time of year.

When anyone asks me what religion I am, I always respond "Jewish'' because I did attend Hebrew school when I was younger and I did have a bar mitzvah. However, I feel just as much a part of the Catholic religion as the Jewish religion because we still celebrate Christmas and other holidays, such as Easter.

I can say that I am probably in a very small group in that I have a Christmas tree in a home where my father, my sister and I all had a bar or bat mitzvah. Even on my bar mitzvah video, many of my relatives said they enjoyed spending Christmas with me . that didn't go well with the rabbi.

My living room and my den are always half and half when the holidays arrive. The menorah will be set up on one side of the room, and the electronic Santa Claus will be on the other side. It is almost as if the two sides are contrasting each other, and yet they form one central idea of the holiday season.

Whenever someone I know realizes that I celebrate both holidays, they immediately feel jealous because, naturally, they believe I get twice the amount of presents. This not true. For Hanukkah, I only receive a small gift two or three nights, instead of all eight, and this is a prerequisite to less presents on Christmas. For me, this is OK, because the holidays really aren't about receiving gifts. Most 14-year-olds will say otherwise, but I believe the intangibles are the true meaning of the holidays.

Whether it is Christmas or Hanukkah, they are the reason the mood of the household may change, or they may cause a feeling of love, or they might even bring out a side of a person never seen before. Many say that the holiday season has a feeling of magic surrounding it. Ultimately, the intangibles are the source to all the magic, and this is why I love celebrating both holidays.

Jeffrey Fleishman
Westchester, N.Y.; his grandparents live in Toms River