What does a Jewish-German Christmas look like?

Last week I posted Christmas with a capital C which is how I sum up my approach to this religious event.
In the article I wondered how other people regard and enjoy the overall December holiday period.

My husband is not religious. I don’t think he’s an Atheist but committing to a religion, or spirituality in general, is not, and never has been, a priority for him. In fact, whenever we are asked to complete forms requesting “Religion: Father” on any forms, we have inserted just about every option under the sun and just end with a question mark instead of a fullstop.

We agreed that we would raise our kids in the Catholic faith to provide a grounding for them until they are old enough to make an informed choice about their own lives.

My friend Kim Joselowitz is in a similar position. Except that she’s Jewish and I am not.

This is Kim’s story:

KJ - profile pic

Kim Joselowitz

I am 30-something and Jewish. My father converted to Judaism before he married my mother. This was something that was never really discussed in detail with us as kids. We followed Jewish tradition and my father was insistent that we embraced our Jewish roots.

Growing up December would be a time for family holidays to the coast. I recall during these holidays playing with non-Jewish kids and visiting their homes and seeing the Christmas trees decorated with baubles and figurines along with flashing lights, and mountains of presents spilling out at the bottom. I didn’t know much about Christmas and what I learned was from my peers. I would hear about Father Christmas and how he would travel in his sleigh pulled by reindeers and come down the chimney to deliver the presents and drink milk and eat cookies.

The day after Christmas was always the hardest as that is when all the kids would be showing off their new cool toys.

Around this time Jews celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which is celebrated for eight days and nights.

It is customary for children to receive gifts for each night of the eight nights of the holiday so at least us Jewish kids didn’t feel too left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around us.

There are many customs or traditions associated with this festival which are symbolic of times gone by. Performing these customs and traditions encourage family participation and bring everyone together.

I am in relationship with someone that is not Jewish. We respect one another’s religion and decided from the beginning of our relationship that we would celebrate both religions’ holidays. So, during December we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah – our “Christmukkah“, and as an extra bonus his birthday on the 23rd!

During Hanukkah, each night a candle is lit which is placed on a special candelabrum called a Hanukkiyah.

The candles are lit by adding one candle each night until all eight candles are burning. A special blessing is said and The Hannukiyah is placed in a central place where we can see the lights shining.

What is a Jewish holiday without food!

KJ - Latkes

Traditional Hanukkah Potato Pancakes – Latkes

At this time it is customary to eat Latkes which are a crispy snack consisting of potatoes, onion and breadcrumbs mixed together and fried and then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. I have obtained many cuts on my fingers from grating potatoes but all very worth it!

I remember my first Christmas; I was like a kid in a candy store. I was so excited to put up the Christmas tree and get all the decorations out, once I was done the department stores has nothing on me!

Christmas is a very busy time!

Germans celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December.

We have a family dinner and then open presents while drinking eggnog and listening to Christmas music. On Christmas Day we usually have lunch with friends.

It is customary in German tradition to bake Christmas cookies for the holidays. We used to do this every year with my partner’s mom.  She passed away this year and I’ll miss her during this holiday period.

What does the festive season mean to me? It is a good time for me to reflect on the past year, to acknowledge my achievements and note my failures, a time to set new goals for the year ahead and most importantly to enjoy and appreciate spending quality time with friends and family and make new memories.
This year I will be in a cold climate, hoping to celebrate a White Christmukkah !

Thank you Kim for sharing your story with me and allowing me to publish it here on my blog.

I learnt a couple of things from Kim through her story:

  • Fried food is traditionally eaten on Hanukkah in commemoration of the oil that miraculously burned for eight days when the Maccabees purified and rededicated the holy Temple in Jerusalem.
  • Jewish Latke recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 5 potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • between 1/4 to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • oil for frying

Preparation:

  1. Peel potatoes. Place in a bowl of cold water so they won’t turn brown.
  2. When ready to prepare the latkas, drain the potatoes. Place potatoes and onions in a food processor fitted with a knife blade. Pulse until smooth. Drain mixture well.
  3. Pour potato mixture into a large bowl. Add beaten eggs. Add salt and pepper. Add enough flour so that the mixture holds together.
  4. Pour 1 inch of oil into a large, deep frying pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  5. Carefully drop 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into the hot oil. Flatten the pancake slightly so the center will cook.
  6. Fry for several minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels.
  • The German Christmas season officially begins with the first Sunday of Advent. Stollen, the oldest known German Christmas treat, and Christmas cookies (Plätzchen) are often baked during this time. Gingerbread houses, nativity scenes, hand-carved wooden Nutcracker figures (Nussknacker), Christmas pyramids (Weihnachtspyramiden), and lighted city streets and homes are all signs that Christmas is on its way.
  • St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th in Germany as well as in other European countries. On the evening before the 6th, children place their newly cleaned shoes in front of the door in the hope that Nicholas might fill them with nuts, fruits, chocolate, and sweets. If the children have behaved well, their wishes will be fulfilled. Children who have caused mischief will receive only a switch, which symbolizes punishment for their bad deeds.
  • Here’s a link to more German Christmas traditions

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