Thursday, December 4, 2008
The Best of Both Worlds: Making the holidays happy in a house with two religions
When it comes to celebrating the holidays, my husband Michael and I have always said the more the merrier. He grew up Catholic. I grew up Jewish. And neither of us is willing to forego the teachings of our past. So we celebrate Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Easter, Passover, Channukah and Christmas!
And when I saw a query from reporter Lynn Martin looking for families that celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas, I had to respond. Lynn and I hit it off, spent some time talking, and did a photo shoot with DC photographer Steve Barrett for the magazine where the article was to run. (See image, right. Yes, we put up a Christmas tree in October. Thank you Kevin and Karen Carroll for lending us your faux evergreen!)
Alas, as it happens sometimes in big-time publications, our segment was cut from the article. But Lynn was kind enough to share what she wrote so I could post it on The Parent Diaries. (I'll admit my kids were really disappointed — me, too — but this is stuff of the real world and I figure it's good to learn the power of resiliency sooner than later!)
Following is what Lynn wrote about our attempt to "Make the best of both worlds."
Journalist Hope Katz Gibbs, 44, a veteran of Hebrew school and her husband Michael Gibbs, 54, an illustrator and former Catholic school altar boy, make sure that their shared traditions provide plenty of glow—from the candles on the menorah to the Christmas lights that bedeck their suburban Virginia home. If you want to know how well they’ve meshed their two cultures, look no further than their tree—adorned with popsicle-stick ornaments in the shape of Jewish stars.
“We’re trying to teach our children to be good, moral people,” says Hope Katz Gibbs, explaining that Anna 13, and Dylan, 9, are learning about both religions and reap the benefits of two celebrations. On Chanukah, the family lights candles, says prayers in Hebrew and enjoys a dinner that includes matzoh ball soup made from Hope’s grandmother’s recipe (the secret’s in the fresh dill and parsley seasoning.)
On Christmas, “We do the tree, the lights, and the whole Santa routine,” says husband Mike, adding that it’s one of his favorite times of year. On each occasion, they take a few, important minutes, to re-tell the story of the holiday. Hope’s mom Bobbi Katz often comes to Christmas dinner, Mike’s parents, to Chanukah. “It’s all about sharing,” says Hope. Still there are parts of the other’s celebration that neither partakes of. “I still don’t eat the Christmas ham and Mike doesn’t like gefitle fish,” she laughs.
Chanukah lasts for eight nights, and when Hope was a girl, she got small presents— a book, maybe a fuzzy pair of socks. “Mike likes to have a Christmas bonanza, and for a little while there, I felt competitive, I didn’t want the kids to think that Chanukah was a lesser holiday because they got a DVD instead of a bike.”
In the last few years they’ve cut back on presents and this year the clan is creating a new tradition: They’re going to volunteer to serve a meal at a soup kitchen or make sandwiches for the homeless. Like so many other Americans, the Gibbs’ are getting back to basics. “It’s important to remember,” says Hope, “what the holidays are really about.”
One last thing: The night before Thanksgiving, Mike and I found a spot to make food for the homeless at the DC Jewish Community Center's "Everything but the turkey" fundraiser. Along with more than 200 other families we helped prepare a holiday feast. Our job: Make pounds and pounds of what they called "kicking coleslaw," and they weren't kidding! We made 100 pounds in 2 hours — and boy was it a blast. We'll be volunteering to prepare food again at Christmas time.
The other charity we're volunteering for in 2009 is Habitat for Humanities' Women Who Build. We're looking for donations of only $5000 by March 15 and volunteers to help us do a one-day build. If you'd like to join, sign up on the website!