When my grandson, Nicholas, was 19 years old, the family was at our home for our annual Chrismukkah holiday party. We were sitting on the couch discussing the ways in which different people celebrate this winter holiday when Nicholas asked, “Granny Lyn, am I Jewish?”
Some Family History
“Not exactly,” I said. “Baba (this is what he calls my husband) and I were both born Jewish. However, before he married me, Baba was married to your Mama (what he calls is maternal grandmother) who is not Jewish. For that reason, your mom is half Jewish.
“The family celebrated some aspects of both religions. Baba spent time with his parents on the holiday, and Baba and Mama always had a Christmas tree in their home and gave Christmas presents to your mom.”
A Brief History of Hanukkah
“Originally Hanukkah was not really a holiday of gift giving. It was a celebration of a historical event that took place in the 139 BCE when Judah Maccabee rededicated the destroyed Temple. The Greek occupiers left only one intact vial of oil, just enough to light the eternal flame for one day. But a miracle happened, and the light lasted for eight days, enabling them to make new purified oil.
“Today, Jewish families have a menorah and light the candles.” We walked over to the menorah I’d put on the dining room table.
Pointing to the middle stem of the candle holder, I explained. “This one is the shamash. You light it first and then starting on the far right, you use it to light the first candle. The second night you do the same thing except you light the first two candles and so forth until the eighth day when all the candles are lit. The idea is to represent that time when the Jews had no pure oil, and the miracle happened.”
“That’s pretty cool. So how come people give Hanukkah gifts?”
“I think maybe it’s because Hanukkah is in December, and people just want to be part of the joy of giving.”
My Own History
“When I was a girl, my grandparents gave us silver dollars and dreidels. Grandma would provide some nuts that were round, and we would play dreidel games. It was fun. I didn’t really know any gentile people and did not miss gift giving. It was years later, after I had my own children that we started giving Hanukkah gifts.”
“Hmmm. I never knew that,” Nicholas mused.
“Well, anyway, your dad is not Jewish, and your mom is half Jewish, so I guess that makes you a quarter Jewish!”
“Well, what about Sydney?” He asked.
“Same thing. Johnny is Catholic. (Johnny is Meredith’s husband. They’d been married about three years before Sydney was born.) Mom is half Jewish, and you and Sydney are each a quarter Jewish, so all together, you make one whole Jew!”
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