Hanukkah feels strange and slightly melancholy this year, with our firstborn away at college. With only one teenager left at home, I declared the official end to kids hunting for little Hanukkah gifts hidden under sofa cushions and behind bookcases. My son was fine with this. Adults rarely give each other Hanukkah gifts in my extended family, and he is well on his way to becoming an adult. But as it turns out, I did not actually have the authority to make this abrupt and unilateral proclamation. Just because I represent the Jewish side in our interfaith family does not make me the boss of Hanukkah.
So after we lit candles and said blessings and sang “Rock of Ages” on the second night, my (Christian) husband surprised me by saying he had hidden little Hanukkah gifts for me and our son. I was touched, and irrationally excited: I hadn’t hunted for a present since I was a kid and my (Christian) mom instituted this Hanukkah tradition in our family.
My bemused son and I quickly located the little tissue paper packets–in a clay pot on the mantel, and on the windowsill behind the curtains. They turned out to be utterly fabulous, completely cheesy blinking LED Hanukkah pins–a menorah and a dreidel. I wore them both at a Hanukkah party the next night.
So my husband created a moment of role-reversal comedy (mom acting like a kid and receiving a goofy “kid” present). At the same time, he distracted us all from missing our college girl. And he paid sweet tribute to the interfaith family created when we got married 25 years ago, and to the tradition instituted by my pioneering interfaith parents, who are still happily married after more than 50 years. Such small gestures, combining tradition and innovation, respect and humor, bind interfaith families together.
Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (forthcoming in 2019). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.
7 Replies to “A Hanukkah Surprise for Interfaith Mom”
Happy Hanukkah, Sue! Call, please, if you’re in the area over Xmas. xoxo
Hoping to make it happen!
Of course I cried at the part where you all needed distraction from missing your college girl. I have been holding out on our holiday traditions, trying to save them for when our college girl comes home. Maybe Paul has a good idea, new plans are a nice way to keep us happy as we are.
Oh Becky! At least they are home for a whole month…
We lit the candles last night before bed with our 10-month old daughter. It has been a sweetening of our bi-faith traditions this year with a little one to share the joy and light with. She is absolutely mesmerized by the flames.
It was only after we said the blessing that I noticed what she was brandishing and gnawing on as we lit the menorah–she had swiped a sheep and the Mary from our nativity in the other room!
Both the menorah and the nativity have been passed along through my husband’s Jewish family (his step-father is Catholic). My (Protestant Christian) family passed along heirloom ornaments and stockings.
Kelly Jane–Lovely! I’m glad you’re letting her sink her teeth into both traditions.
Paul is a mensch!