A Holiday Extravaganza: Hanukkah and Christmas All in One Book
By Joanna Campbell Slan
My protagonist Kiki Lowenstein was raised as an Episcopalian. When she married George Lowenstein, she agreed to raise their daughter, Anya, as a Jew. But after George’s murder, Kiki marries again, and her new husband is a Lutheran. Therefore, in her home, both holidays—Hanukkah and Christmas—are celebrated.
For me as an author, this offers all sorts of interesting diversions and subplots.
All Jewish holidays begin at sundown, and that means that Kiki must hurry home from work to be there with her family when they light the traditional candles in the menorah, the candelabra with eight equal arms and a taller arm in the middle. That middle space is reserved for the shamus, the candle used to light all of the other candles. Because Hebrew is read from right to left, that’s how the candles are set on fire. Each night a new candle is added and all of the candles are allowed to extinguish themselves.
Kiki’s middle child, Erik, is seven. He’s learning to say the Hebrew prayers. For him, lighting the shamus is a really big deal! He’s been waiting all year to show that he knows the prayers and that he can handle a lit candle.
Kiki’s oldest child, Anya, is fourteen. She’s been raised as a Jew. As the oldest of three, she’s decided it’s her job to teach her siblings about Judaism. After all, they’ll grow up in a Christian country, so learning about Judaism will expand their understanding of other cultures.
The youngest child, Ty, is only eighteen months. He has no idea what any of this means, but he has learned that he loves latkes, the fried potato pancakes that are a traditional part of the Hanukkah celebration. Oh, and yes, he also loves presents. Tearing away the wrapping paper is a real thrill.
A lot of Christians think that Hanukkah is the “Jewish Christmas.” It isn’t. Hanukkah is more like the Fourth of July with a miracle thrown in for good measure. However, many Jewish families do exchange gifts for each day of the celebration. That means eight days of gifts! Being a child in a mixed-religion household is all sorts of fun. Hardly a day goes by in December when there isn’t a new package to unwrap.
In Fleece, Navi, Dead, as in all of the Kiki books, there’s an emphasis on family and friends. Kiki has learned that family means more than your blood kin. She and her new husband have gathered a family crafted from friends and co-workers, as well as extended relatives. Isn’t that what holidays are all about? Being surrounded by those we love!