Growing up, my family always celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. My mother is Jewish and my father is Christian, but this never really seemed to present any problems for my sister and me. My parents decided to let us figure out our beliefs when we were old enough to make such decisions, but they still wanted us to grow up with customs and family traditions. So, they came up with a perfect blend of the holidays: a mashup that has since become known as Chrismukkah. We ate latkes and Christmas cookies, lit the menorah and hung ornaments on the tree, and opened eight nights of presents while still hanging stockings up for Santa to fill.
Every year, we celebrated Christmas at my grandmother's house, where the Christmas tree and stockings were located. It made it all the more exciting to head over there for the Christmas festivities, even though my friends couldn't imagine not having a tree in their own living rooms. Christmas seemed all the more magical, perhaps because it didn't happen in our own house. It was like this fantastic event that occurred every year, outside the normal purview of my house. Santa knew where to find me, so it didn't seem all that significant that my Christmas was taking place at another location.
To me, celebrating both holidays meant I was special. None of my friends were Jewish or knew anyone else who was, so I educated them on spinning the dreidel and eating gelt. My teachers trotted me out each year as the "token Jewish kid" to explain the story of Hanukkah, but I loved it because I got to read my favorite story to the class: "Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins." It also taught me the importance of diversity -- even if I wasn't exactly like everyone else in my class, it made me feel unique. And because I still celebrated Christmas, I felt none of the exclusion that could have gone along with not being strictly Christian.
Chrismukkah also meant that I learned tolerance from a young age. I noticed how my life was different from others, and so I became less judgmental of others' differences. My Mormon friends couldn't drink soda because of the caffeine. My Catholic friends gave up sweets for Lent. My best friend, a Muslim boy, fasted during Ramadan. And I didn't blink an eye. We all had our unique customs, and so I became more accepting of everyone around me.
Today, I still celebrate both holidays and love the traditions of both. I can sing every word to "O Holy Night" but can also belt out "Rock of Ages" with the best of them. And that's exactly the way I like it.