My Family Celebrates Hanukkah in a Nontraditional Way, and I Wouldn't Change a Thing

Cameron Gordon
Candle light double exposure.

The holiday season has always held a special place in my heart. From the cooler air to the delicious food to the twinkling lights in the trees, the last few months of the year seamlessly blend into one long blur of celebrating. And like many of my friends, I grew up in a house that would describe itself as culturally ambiguous, meaning the holiday season became a hodgepodge of cross-cultural celebrations in an attempt to maintain tradition across both sides of my family's background.

I come from a family that celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas. This intricate balance of celebrations rested itself upon my mother's proud Mexican heritage that demanded we attend Christmas mass in conjunction with the lighting of my father's menorah. Despite the conflicting ideologies, somehow, both religious celebrations coexisted peacefully in my childhood home.

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In our own unique family tradition, our tree stands tall by the front door, dressed with ornaments in the shape of the star of David, turning one of Christmas's most cherished symbols into an act of cultural mixing.

When I was a kid, my parents would grapple with whether to wait until after our family's celebration of Hanukkah to set up the tree, ultimately deciding that adhering to a timeline to celebrate both traditions was useless. The fact that we celebrated one did not have to negate the legitimacy of the other, and thus our yearly tradition of "Christmakkuh" was born. From that year on, each annual Hanukkah party was never left without the essence of my mom's family traditions, too.

Every year, cousins, uncles, aunts, and family friends made the trek to our home in Southern California to celebrate Hanukkah. Admittedly, in my younger years, Hanukkah was nothing more than a bonus to Christmas. It was another day of gifts, though this one substituted chocolate gelt and a spinning dreidel in place of leaving cookies for Santa. It was only when I moved out - and became one of the many family members who made the trek home myself - when I started to appreciate our unique family take on this holiday.

Now every December, I come home to our menorah lit in one room and our stockings hung in the other. In our own unique family tradition, our tree stands tall by the front door, dressed with ornaments in the shape of the star of David, turning one of Christmas's most cherished symbols into an act of cultural mixing. My Jewish relatives brush past the branches of our tree unfazed, as they place gifts wrapped in blue and gold paper under tables laden with my aunt's sweet kugel, crispy latkes and applesauce, and various Hanukkah-themed sugar cookies.

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My family doesn't keep kosher. I never had a bat mitzvah. We have one token cousin who can read our blessings in Hebrew as we light the menorah. These facts used to persuade me to belittle my claim to my own ethnicity; however, the lack of orthodox tradition in our celebration doesn't change my family's roots. It took me over two decades of celebrating Hanukkah in the nontraditional style we've solidified into tradition before I finally realized that tradition means so much more than fitting into a specific mold. Tradition is what holds family together; it's the ineffable, almost magical presence that pulses through the holidays - and no religious or cultural barrier should come between that. The real reason we cherish the holiday season is because it gives us the opportunity to celebrate together as a family. And for my family, though our style of celebrating Hanukkah might be considered Jew-ish to some, it's enough for us.

This year, as I prepare to return home for yet another holiday season filled with cultural ambiguity, I can't help but get excited at the overwhelming privilege I have to partake in both of these traditions. I'm fortunate to belong to a family that not only accepts one another's traditions but also encourages their celebration in every way possible. My kids will be celebrating Christmakkuh, too, and my family's nontraditional traditions will continue to live on - because coming together, despite religious affiliations or beliefs, is truly something to celebrate.