Our First Hanukkah

Last night was the first night our family has ever celebrated Hanukkah.

We’re not a religious family, but we celebrate Christmas for the joy, the togetherness and the spirit of giving. It’s a tradition both Matt and I grew up with and the idea of Santa is fun and enchanting. Especially these days; have you seen these videograms and trackers kids can follow?

But Cole came home from school last week with a book about Hanukkah. It was a really beautiful story about a family in Israel harvesting their olive trees, using both green and black olives to eat and make oil. It showed an appreciation for the effort in doing these things and how long it took the earth to produce the bounty to “Harvest the light.” It also discussed traditions and lighting a menorah. Cole told me he had friends in class that celebrated Hanukkah and that they had family visit and they lit candles and that it sounded special and fun.

That night, the first night of Hanukkah, we had Matt’s family over for dinner and Cole shared with me he wished we had celebrated the first night by lighting a menorah, since we had family over and that’s their tradition. I sincerely appreciated his interest and enthusiasm for learning and bringing new culture into the house. Yesterday I polled my Jewish friends and was inspired by responses on our Facebook page. And then, on my way home from work I picked up a menorah.

And we celebrated the 2nd night of Hanukkah. We ate dinner by the flickering light, we each talked about our day. We talked about what we each knew about the holiday and what we still wanted to learn. And then the boys were allowed to open one gift, one of their “joint” gifts. They chose what ended up being the Home Alone series and they were thrilled to all watch Home Alone 4 together as a family.

And the night couldn’t have been complete without Elana being with us (since after all, part of Cole’s inspiration came from her), so Matt made a batch of gingersnaps for us (we love these with 1/3 cup diced crystalized ginger) since we gave all the ones we made last week away.  Tomorrow we’re going to make these carrot latkes or maybe latke waffles (but that defeats the purpose of appreciating oil) and the boys will each get to open a wrapped book.

Hopefully the idea of a family of non-religious, culturally Christian gentiles attempting to participate in a Jewish holiday doesn’t offend anyone, but we’re having a good time exploring another event. Even Matt, who was hesitant at first, is looking forward to the remaining days and what we may learn and share together. Maybe next year we’ll look into Solstice, Yule or even Festivus. Because that’s what the holiday is really about to our family.  In these activities, we’re each able to appreciate exactly what the season is supposed to be focused on: spending time together and creating traditions that will carry through our generations.


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  • TJ

    I think it’s so great that you guys are doing this!  We are not religious either, but celebrate Christmas for the same reasons you do.  I have always wondered about the traditions of other holidays, such as Hanukkah, and I think it’s so neat that Cole was interested in another culture and that you pursued that interest as a family.  We could all stand to learn something new about someone else.  Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to you and your wonderful family!

    • TJ – couldn’t agree more about pursuing interests and culture as a family. With respect and understanding, I hope the boys learn to appreciate all differences in cultures as they grow – I feel like Cole asking to do this is a sign we’re doing something right! 😉

  • I love your explanation of why you celebrate Christmas! So well put!

    • Thank you Nicole! Family is very important to both Matt and I, and although Christmas was never a “big” holiday in his family we’ve come to really grow many traditions out of the day and it’s something we both look forward to for the reasons we described.

  • What a lovely idea! That’s what curiosity and learning is all about. I was raised and culturally identify with being Jewish, but have pretty much taken to celebrating Christmas the last few years with my husband. It is a big tradition for him and I have found a lot of joy in sharing it with him. We don’t do much to celebrate Hanukkah but hope to incorporate more of those traditions when we have a family of our own. Neither of us are particularly religious, but we like the holiday traditions for their emphasis on family and togetherness. Thank you for sharing this experience with us – so many good ideas!

    • Thanks Amelia! We were a bit worried how this might appear, but we feel like following curiosity is a goal in our family and this is both allowing the kids to do that and exploring new history and culture. It was great last night and we’re looking forward to more!  What were your family traditions to support family and togetherness during Hanukkah growing up?

  • This is such a great story of tolerance and acceptance.  I think it’s amazing that Cole was so interested in celebrating something new, and even more wonderful that he has such fantastic parents who are willing to let their boys explore.  I seriously love you more every DAY!

    • Aww, thanks Summer!  When I asked Cole last night what he liked best about Hanukkah (expecting to hear a gift every night) he told me “spending time with family.” <3

  • So funny, I’m just browsing through your blog for the first time and came across this post. I enjoyed all of it, and then imagine my surprise when I saw that you linked to my waffles! Thank you 🙂  I’m glad you enjoyed your first Hanukkah, what a special memory and new tradition for your kids!

    • Whoops! That’s my fault! Usually I’m very good at trackbacking and notifying people we link to! Glad you like the post that included you, though!

  • I just came across your blog and am so thrilled for the information you are sharing! I love this post and I have a Jewish background (and would be happy to help if I can with questions in the future). Potato Latkes are a tradition of Hanukkah that I love and since going paleo, I have found that these fit perfectly in with the holiday: http://everydaypaleo.com/2011/12/22/sweet-potato-latkes/#

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  • Stacey Garlin Lederberg

    I love it…and as a Jewish person, who teaches my daughter about all different traditions, (she writes Santa a letter each year), I love when anyone is interested and celebrates a beautiful family tradition. And Latkes just can’t be beat!

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  • Leah

    I love your post, Hanukkah is a great holiday to celebrate and can be especially fun for the kids! My background is spilt Jewish/Christian. When I was young my father used to come into my school every year and teach the class about Hanukkah (read the miracle of Hanukkah). The class would participate in making latkes, lighting a menorah, and playing dreidel. It was a great experience for all of the kids as it was educational and fun at the same time. The best part, the kids and teachers loved the exposure to a different traditions and always looked forward to celebrating Hanukkah the following year.

    • Glad you loved the post!! 🙂 Happy Hanukkah!