Growing up, Christmas Day wasn’t the most important day for me. My family did have a small artificial Christmas tree, a few decorations here and there and Christmas lights; but the majority of my memories on December 25th are calm, quiet and peaceful. I’ve only very recently learned that is not typical.
Here’s the thing. My mom was raised Jewish, my dad was raised Protestant and both are atheists. My brother is actually my half-brother from my mom’s first marriage, so we have different dads but the same mom (btw I never actually refer to him as my half-brother). My brother’s dad and his new family celebrate Christmas together, especially because my brother’s step brother’s birthday is on Christmas eve. Confused yet? If you’re from a blended family you can probably follow the family tree. If not, just trust me that it all makes sense.
Anyway, the majority of my Christmases were spent with my mom, my dad, occasionally my grandparents and maybe a cousin or two. But over all they were quiet. However, I grew up celebrating something that nobody else got, something that was entirely unique to my family. In order to have the whole family together for a Christmas-like occasion, my parents invented the blended holiday of Chanamas.
Before you ask, Chanamas is NOT Chrismukkah. Chanamas has been around for at least a decade longer than The O.C., and does not involve santa hat yamakas. Chanamas is a lot like Christmas, it’s just not celebrated on Christmas Day, which makes it awesome. So, when I was a kid/teenager, a few days before Christmas, I would wake up at 5 a.m. on Chanamas morning, try and fail to wake up my older brother, run downstairs, dump the contents of my stocking on the floor and begin gorging on chocolate – while impatiently waiting for the rest of my family to wake up so we could open presents.
My parents invented Chanamas so that we could all spend the holidays together, without making my brother feel like he had to choose where to celebrate on Christmas Eve/Day. It’s a ritual that’s worked really well for over 27 years. We still celebrate Chanamas on a day that is convenient for all of the busy members of my family and it staggers the holidays really nicely.
Chanamas didn’t lack any of the magic of the season either. My brother and I would get presents from Santa (we were told he made a special visit to our house on that day) and Uncle Chniuk (a Jewish Santa-like character that my grandfather invented).
I’m not a religious person. While I appreciate some of the Jewish and Christian traditions I’ve grown up with (e.g. latkes, menorahs, decorations and presents), I don’t hold any spiritual connections to the holidays. But the holidays wouldn’t be the holidays if they weren’t spent with family, something that I think most people can agree on, no matter what they celebrate.