Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Sara and Melissa...Celebrate Each Other's Holidays!

We've been running a column series (for over three years now!) to get more personal with our readers. This month, we are talking about what we like about each other's holidays. Even if we don't celebrate a certain holiday, we can still appreciate a lot of things about it.

We're always open to topic suggestions, so please don't hesitate to share those in the comments. We'd also love to know if you can relate to anything we've said or hear your own thoughts on the topic. So don't be shy. :) We look forward to getting to know you as much as we're letting you get to know us. You can find our previous columns here, in case you missed them. 

Melissa Amster:

When I was reviewing The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman, it made me think of when I was growing up, how my family and I would go to our cousins' house every Christmas. They celebrated Christmas and we would join them in their celebration. Every year, we'd first hang out in the living room in front of their big and beautifully decorated tree, noshing on appetizers and talking. Then we'd gather around their ping pong table in the basement, that was set with a tablecloth and their good plates, and we'd indulge in turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and the like (it was very similar to a Thanksgiving meal, which they always had at our house). For dessert, we'd have cherry cheesecake and Frango mint cookies. Between dinner and dessert, we'd open presents. My parents usually gave us our Hanukkah presents during this time. There was Christmas music constantly playing throughout the house that day. When we left, it was quiet outside and the snow would glisten under the streetlights as we made our way home. There was something so peaceful and beautiful about that time of night.

Even though it's been ages since I've participated in that family tradition, and since I don't celebrate Christmas with my own family, there's still a lot to appreciate about the holiday. (I may not be as enthusiastic as Rachel from The Matzah Ball, but I can still appreciate Christmas for what it is.) I thought I'd make a small list. 

1. The movies. Whether it's a rom-com about a woman engaged to a man in a coma, or a comedy about a kid playing tricks on burglars, there's always at least one good Christmas movie available every year. Maybe more than that. As you can see here, two of my top favorites are Home Alone and While You Were Sleeping. And I will admit to getting super emotional over the 1990s version of Miracle on 34th Street, starring Mara Wilson. I've been known to indulge in other Christmas movies over the years, as well. "'Tis the season!"

2. The decorations. I love seeing pictures of everyone's Christmas trees, as well as seeing houses lit up in the winter. There's something really comforting about it all. 

Courtesy of Canva

3. The music. Not all of it, but some can be fun. As of yesterday, I have been "Whamageddoned". Funny enough, I didn't mind thanks to the nostalgic feel of the song. And as annoying as some people think "All I Want for Christmas is You" is, I can't help but jam along to it whenever it comes on the radio. 

4. The dessert. I associate some treats with Christmas, such as peppermint bark and Candy Cane Joe-Joe's. I also get peppermint hot cocoa more often at this time of year.

5. The overall feeling of joy that goes along with Christmas. I know it can sometimes be a stressful time of year, but it's also a time to step back a bit, spend time with those you care about, etc. I feel like people make the effort to be nicer to each other and I hope that will happen again this year. We all need that!

Last winter, I participated in a Zoom holiday party from my job. We all live in different parts of the country, so it's the only way to celebrate together. We were doing some holiday trivia games and I got all the Christmas answers right. I was the only one in the group who doesn't celebrate Christmas. So apparently something must have stuck with me. I guess we'll have to see if that happens again this year!

Wishing a very merry Christmas to everyone who will be celebrating soon! 🎄

Sara Steven:

I wasn’t raised in a home that honored any sort of religious holiday traditions. Not having any sort of blueprint made me appreciate hearing about and learning about the various religious customs and traditions that my friends would partake in, especially when it involved what they’d been taught by their own families while growing up and what they planned to pass on to their children, to carry on those traditions.

I’ve asked Melissa about her traditions over the years, interested in learning more about my close friend and her Jewish faith. I appreciate her patience and guidance, and I appreciate that I can share what I like about her holidays.

I remember a time I sang a song about Hanukkah when I was in grade school, hitting the high notes when we belted out about “The Festival of Lights,” but I never really understood the meaning behind it. I think lighting the menorah and reciting blessings is a beautiful tradition. I’ve read up on the various types of menorahs that you can have, whether it is store-bought or homemade, and I respect that it means the tradition can be accessible to anyone who wants to partake in the Hanukkah celebration. I asked Melissa if there are particular songs that she sings with her family during Hanukkah, and she said that while they used to sing after lighting the candles, over the years that has tapered off as her kids got older. They always chant the Hanukkah blessings (Baruch ata…) before lighting, and on the first night they add an additional blessing called the “shehecheyanu,” thanking Hashem, "who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season."

A picture taken on the last night of Hanukkah at Melissa's house, 2022

I love jelly-filled doughnuts. They’re my favorite. Sufganiyot are jelly-filled doughnuts that are eaten during Hanukkah as a means to honor the oil used to light the lamp in the Temple. It burned bright for eight days, even though there was only enough fuel for one day. I wasn’t aware of this tradition. Melissa told me she isn’t big on jelly inside donuts, so she partakes in chocolate-filled ones instead.  Another traditional option are latkes, or potato pancakes–something I haven’t had in years! But I do remember how tasty they are. Another custom I wasn’t aware but can appreciate involves handing out gelt, the Yiddish word for money. Gelt represents Jewish independence and can be real coins or chocolate-covered candies. I’ve seen such coins before, but I’ve never really understood the significance or what they represented.

Melissa's husband's homemade latkes

What I admire the most of all of the traditions is how Hanukkah brings about gatherings, whether it’s with family and/or friends. I’ve often heard about the various people that Melissa has hosted for the holidays, bringing about a sense of community and togetherness during a time when I don’t feel there is enough of that in the world. I know she has so much going on for the holidays, as so many of us do, but she still opens her heart and her home to her neighbors and friends. I’ve also read that there are many organizations that will hold public menorah lightings in cities all over the world, a true show of how proud the Jewish community is when it comes to their faith. And faith is such a monumental and important thing, especially this time of year.  

Tell us what you like about a holiday you don't celebrate.

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jesstopper said...

Growing up Jewish, I became an "expert tree trimmer" after being invited to many friends' houses to partake in their traditions. I really loved the excitement of new ornaments being added to the lineup, and seeing "old favorites" from my best friends' attics making their annual appearance. Deciding where to hang each one appealed to the detail-oriented side of me, even as a young kid. We also strung popcorn strings and made paper chains for the tree.

I haven't had an opportunity to decorate a tree in many years, but it is still a favorite memory of spending time with friends and being included in their family's tradition!

dstoutholcomb said...

Happy Holidays!