Nineteen years ago this April, this non-religious woman married a Jewish man and we set out to create a new set of holiday traditions. At first, since I brought very little to the party, we set a pretty rigid plan of celebrating Jewish traditions as a new family and only celebrating the non-Jewish holidays with my family in their homes. I discovered to my surprise that Hanukkah is really a minor holiday in the Jewish religion, bumped up in importance based on its proximity to Christmas. But I embraced it, cooking brisket and latkes, lighting candles and learning prayers.
But, like most plans and ideas, things change. Every year we changed the tradition a bit, as our needs or situations dictated. After our first holiday season, I realized I did not miss the Christmas tree, but I missed my family’s Christmas stocking tradition. My grandmother knitted every grandchild a stocking when they were born and knitted their spouse one when they got married. (Later, she knitted each great-grandchild a stocking, too. My 13- year-old got the last stocking she made.) So this was something we incorporated into our traditions.
A few years later we moved to Oregon right around the holidays and I found myself feeling more homesick than I anticipated. Since Christmas trees are cheap and sold on almost every other block there, I bought one on a whim and we did that for a few years after. Then, in three years we had baby and moved two more times, also during the holidays, so we had very little bandwidth for creating new traditions.
Now as we have added another child and the years have passed, we have unintentionally created a hybrid approach to the holidays. We started putting up a tree again when my youngest turned two and asked for a “twee.” We still have brisket and latkes and eight gifts for Hanukkah. When we make cookies, we make Christmas trees and dreidels. We hang stockings and light menorah candles.
People have asked me advice over the years on incorporating holidays. I am sure, depending on my life stage, I had a different answer. Now, my only answer is you have to figure out what works best for you as a family and don’t be afraid to compromise and adjust. What is important is that your traditions are yours as a family. There is no “one size fits all” approach. So, relax and enjoy your traditions, whatever they may be.