Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are some of the winter holidays celebrated around the world — and right here in Charm City. While culture often forms the foundation of these celebrations, families embrace the holidays differently. Some combine and weave holiday traditions together, creating their own interpretations of the season. Others are inspired by historical customs but add their own modern flare. And of course, there are some that are traditionalists when it comes to holidays.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing how local families celebrate the winter holidays, starting with Hanukkah. The common thread tying all of these celebrations together? Kids — no matter what holiday they celebrate — love the magic of spending time together as a family.
To read more, check our our 2018 Holiday Guide.
Modern Family Holiday Celebrations: Hanukkah
Similar to Diwali, Hanukkah is known to the Jewish community as the Festival of Lights. The eight day celebration commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians.
“Each night we light the menorah and say the blessings. We exchange presents and spend time together exploring what we received,” said Bryna Toth, mom to Ben and Sam. “The boys love playing their new games and checking out what the other got. They also love playing dreidel! Some nights we eat latkes. The best part is watching their excitement and spending time together. I love celebrating traditions that they will always remember.”
Lighting the candles and saying the blessings is one of Bryna’s favorite traditions because Jewish families have been doing throughout history.
“It unites us,” said Bryna.
Of course, as a kid, Bryna would get excited about getting gifts. As a parent, she wants her children to feel a sense of belonging with the Jewish community.
“I want them to feel pride when we continue the traditions that Jewish people have been observing for generations. I hope that they remember the feeling that they get when we light the menorah, when they spin a gimmel in dreidel, or when they eat a latke,” said Bryna. “I want them to remember that we had fun as a family.”
While traditions are important to Teresa Pearl, her family has interpreted Hanukkah rituals in a way that incorporates new traditions. For instance, it’s traditional to eat foods fried in oil during Hanukkah. So, during one night of Hanukkah, the Pearl family eats Chick-fil-A (which, of course, is a huge hit with her young kids!)
Another Pearl family tradition? Participating in Mitzvah Day. Community Mitzvah Day, Jewish Volunteer Connection’s most well-known volunteer event, takes place on December 24 and 25 and engages more than 1,000 volunteers in a variety of service activities. Sites include shelters, soup kitchens, nursing homes, group homes for individuals with special needs, hospitals, as well as community based service projects at the JCCs and synagogues throughout the community.
“This year we will be stuffing toiletry bags for the homeless with seniors from our intergenerational play date at the Atrium Village,” said Teresa. “The kids love stuffing the bags and the seniors love spending time with the kids. It’s a win for everyone.”
Photos by Laura Black.