In my family, the holiday juggle struggle is real. We celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, but that’s only half the story. Because those two holidays don’t take into account the fact that my husband, me and our two kids live hours away from both my parents and my husband’s parents. The words “Christmas” and “Hanukkah” alone don’t fully convey the wealth of traditions that come with my husband’s Mexican-American culture and upbringing, or my “it’s complicated” non-religious roots. The two holidays don’t take into account my husband’s parents’ divorce and an extra house to visit on top of the other houses.
The holidays are especially crazy in my family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because my kids are being immersed in their heritage, and will benefit from the chaotic, mostly happy mishmash of the winter holiday season. So far in my relationship, we’ve traded off holidays at each of our sets of parents’ houses. One year, we spend Thanksgiving with my parents and Christmas with my husband’s family. The next year, we switch. A Hanukkah celebration with my family is often crammed into the Christmas visit on the years we are at my parents’ house. On the years we aren’t at my parents’ house for Christmas, we either skip Hanukkah with my family or make a separate visit in addition to the others.
My family celebrates Hanukkah because my dad was raised Jewish. He had the traditional Jewish right of passage into adulthood at 13 years old called a bar mitzvah and everything. My dad didn’t stay religious, though, and Jewish traditions in my childhood were practiced more for cultural reasons than religious ones. We often joked that my Catholic-raised mom knew more about Jewish practices than my dad, as she became so familiar with the traditions after being exposed to them over their many years of marriage.
I have the fondest of memories of celebrating Hanukkah at my grandma and grandpa’s house when they were alive. The greasy fried oil and potato smell of latkes cooking. The excitement of taking our “assigned” spots on the carpet in the living room, opening presents. The Hanukkah gatherings have since become much larger with the addition of the next generation of kids. I take pride in teaching my kids the Hanukkah prayer we say as we light the candles, and watching their faces as they sample matzoh ball soup or chopped liver.
Christmas with my parents is a casual affair. My parents usually bring in take-out food on Christmas Eve from a restaurant.Christmas Day at my parents’ entails a jammies-all-day dress code. While my husband’s side spends all day Christmas eve cooking a ham dinner with all the fixings. Christmas Day involves visits to different relatives’ houses in our “nice clothes”.
When we visit my in-laws’ house, his mom cooks every meal and snacks for us and the kids. She’s helpful to the point of being overbearing, and being around her is emotionally exhausting because she requires a lot of attention and thrives on drama and gossip.
Christmas Day visits to the other relatives’ homes are always a treat because my green-eyed, blond children are exposed to their Mexican culture in the form of food, Spanish songs and Mexican traditions. We usually squeeze in a visit to my husband’s father’s house on Christmas Day, as well. It’s sort of crazy, but it’s fun.
My kids have never woken up in their own home on Christmas morning to find evidence of a visit from Santa. We’re always at a set of grandparents’ house on Christmas morning. My husband’s parents live more than three hours away from us, and my parents live more than two hours away in the other direction. We can’t exactly start our morning in our own house and then head over to Grandma’s place.
To me, spending time with family is worth the sacrifice of not being in our own house on Christmas morning. I want my kids to know that Christmas isn’t about Santa or presents. It’s about family and traditions. The smell of bacon cooking and reading with Grandpa.
Holidays in my family are rich with all of our cultures, and are a time for utter craziness that I cherish with all of my heart.