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As a woman who has lived through many passages and learned through my larger than life experiences (positive and negative), I’ve discovered how to take a big empowering bite out of life.

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Growing Up Jewish At Christmas Time

“Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to give myself a gold star for being ordinary, and maybe one of these days I’ll give myself a gold star for being extraordinary…for persisting, and maybe one day I won’t need to have a star at all.”-Sue Bender

I came across this quote and felt it apropos because of the time of the year. A time to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Stars seem to fit in so perfectly for as the Christmas song states: Christmas is the loveliest time of the year. A gold star day.

I love stars. As a little girl growing up in Kankakee by the Sea, I loved getting a gold star on my papers from my teachers, five-pointed proof that I accomplished, and excelled. But as I recall there was always pressure on me to get that gold star.

Now that I am a woman far after 50, because of my many experiences I ‘rejoice’ when I give myself a gold star. Do you? When I privately see my star after I accomplished my mission and imagine it “‘twinkling and winking at me in all its’ shine as if to say, ‘you did good girl.’ In other words, I no longer need another person to give me a gold star. I now rejoice in proving myself to myself. Now I can ‘simply be,’ focused on my private course. There is no better time of the year to discuss this progression of life than at Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year.

growing up jewish at christmas time


Everything has prepared you for this moment darling

Your life in your younger years has prepared you, a woman after 50, for everything that comes next. Your experiences reflect who you are today. And, who are you? You are the wizened women of the world! For those of you who know it wear your gold star in your head, proudly. For those of you in doubt, take time to reflect. Whether you realize it or not, Act 1 gave you a confidence star. Think about how you survived your trials and tribulations and rejoice.

I know Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year are the ideal time to reflect on your past experiences. Sit down in your favorite spot with a hot toddy made of liquor, hot water, sugar, and spice, and go back in time. Rethink your sugar and spice experiences that today prepared you, a wizened woman.

This is also an appropriate time to buy yourself a gift. A beautiful journal. In your favorite color or design. I know. My writings over the past ten years became a journal and unknowingly opened the windows of my life. I am a very wizened woman because I know who I am. And, that is what matters. Please follow in my path because eventually, you will live into your answers, you will experience through your authentic writing a close-up, the windows of your life, your lessons, and your accomplishments and you will… rejoice.

And, now that I have given you a gold star message, here’s one of my entries. Oh, the lessons I learned. I am smiling.


Hanukkah and Christmas in Kankakee by the Sea

The two most wonderful and festive holidays of the year take place in December and though they are different, they are also very similar. Families gather together to celebrate the occasions, the avenues in our cities are lit up and lights shine in our homes. Christmas tree lights in many of yours and a lit menorah in mine.


Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish darlings

The celebration of Hanukkah began at sundown last Sunday. I know you brought out your menorahs, set your tables for family and friends, and went to your markets and your flower shops in preparation for the first night of the celebration of Hanukkah.


For my non-Jewish darlings here is a lesson on Hanukkah

Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish people’s victory over the Syrian Greek army that led to the restoration and rededicating of the Holy Temple back to the Jewish people in 165 B.C. Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for “dedication” is the Festival of Lights.

Why is Hanukkah called the Festival of Lights? There was just one vial of oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day and the lamp burned for eight. It was a miracle.

The holiday is a very happy family time in Jewish homes as is Christmas in Christian homes, which leads me to my story today. My story recollects my experiences growing up as a little Jewish girl in Kankakee by the Sea and how the experience of these two holidays enriched my life.


Christmas and Hanukkah

I often say to you, dear readers, that everything we experience during our lives becomes a story. The story can last but a few minutes or continue for a few weeks. Some are over-the-top fantastic, some are hopeful, some boring, and some painful, but nevertheless when strung together they become a novel of our memories—the story of our personal life. As we review our life’s chapters and our memories, we often return to the most defining ones, those that played an important role in shaping our lives.

I mention Kankakee by the Sea often in my musings because other than my parents, the town and its citizens were very important in molding my character. When I left, at 18, for college and sorority life, I left behind the physical community of Kankakee by the Sea but carried with me a certain innocence of the small-town mentality. I am glad. I still carry that mentality in me to this day along with layers of special and heartbreaking emotional experiences that are carved in my mind and soul.

My musings today take me back to Kankakee by the Sea; to Hanukkah and Christmas. My girlfriends were Christian. I was a Jew.

Christmas in Kankakee by the Sea brought out a longing for inclusion. Try growing up a little Jewish girl in an overwhelmingly Christian town. I was not envious; I was wistful. I wanted to decorate a Christmas tree, have the most beautiful wreath on our front door, give and receive lots of presents, and run down the stairs Christmas morning and see what Santa left me and share the information with my Christian friends. My hopes were that my mom would make a turkey and ham and invite our family over for Christmas dinner. Why shouldn’t I wish those things? After all, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and I wanted to revel in it.


growing up jewish at christmas time

That was not to be my story.

Recounting my memories, I see those holiday events as a positive. I learned about Christianity because I spent time with my non-Jewish girlfriends. I could sing every word of every Christmas carol, I helped my friends decorate their trees, ate ham for dinner at their homes and as I grew older in Kankakee by the Sea I went to midnight Mass with my friends at Saint Patrick Church – I recall when they knelt, I sat in my seat as a good little Jewish girl. All-in-all I learned the important lesson early on of respecting other people’s faiths while still maintaining my identity as a Jew.

I give all of this credit to my father and one of my grandfathers, his father, Paul Lang. Their actions and words made me so proud and pleased that at a very young age my Jewish heritage was instilled within me for life, though I did not realize it at the time.

They taught me to honor my beliefs. I did not grow up with a Christmas tree with twinkling lights and divinely wrapped presents with beautiful bows under the tree or stockings hung on the fireplace mantle. I grew up learning the importance of planting trees in Israel to help turn the desert into a garden of Eden, the importance of taking pride in my religious beliefs, the history of the Jewish people, the importance of charity, and to respect the beliefs of my friends. Hanukkah was a time of lighting the candles, singing songs, sharing love with my family, and learning early on that not everyone celebrated Hanukkah.


I was set apart

I did not have a wreath on my door at Christmas. I had a mezuzah with the scrolls of the Ten Commandments on my doorpost.

On Hanukkah, I lit our menorah for eight nights. My friends had candles on their dining room tables.

I did not have a delicious Christmas dinner of ham and turkey and mashed potatoes. During Hanukkah, I devoured latkes with applesauce.

I did not have any twinkling lights in my front yard like my friends who had Nativity scenes. I recall asking my mother, “Can we have Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in our front yard and pretend he and the reindeer are Jewish?” The answer, with some laughter, was “No.”


growing up jewish at christmas time

Was I envious that I did not celebrate Christmas?

Was I envious of my friends at Christmas? Did I feel excluded? The answer is yes and no. Though Christmas is magical and there is love and sharing in the air, I realized at a young age that Christmas was not my holiday. Christmas belonged to my Christian friends. Hanukkah belonged to me. I would delight in sharing Christmas with them and they would delight in sharing Hanukkah with me.

They would invite me to their homes for Christmas dinner and their mothers would serve roasted chestnuts, ham, sweet potatoes, pecan pie, and ice cream for dessert. I would invite them to my home and my mom would teach them how to make delicious latkes that were served with all kinds of toppings along with a delicious Hanukkah dinner.

Years have gone by. December is my favorite month of the year because of Hanukkah, Christmas, and my memoirs. I chose to marry my husband in December because I am the happiest in December.


To my Jewish darlings, wherever you are, light your menorahs and twirl your dreidels into 2023. Happy Hanukkah. To my Christmas friends light your trees, light your candles, light your fireplaces and rejoice.

December 25, 2022


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  1. Susan Greenfield says:

    Dear Susan,
    As I read this beautiful story, I felt like you were telling the recollection of my childhood too. All of your experiences were so much like mine Growing up in Quincy, MA. Decorating my friends Christmas trees, going to Christmas Mass , knowing every word of all the Christmas carols, a grandmother who understood how I felt and gave me Christmas gifts wrapped up so nicely on Christmas morning so I could share the joy with my friends. She was a very observant Jewish “Bubby” but knew I needed to feel I belonged. She sang all the Christmas carols with me because she loved this time of the year too. Peace, love, giving. All very important lessons.
    The innocence of growing up in a small town is still with me too. I am thankful for this innocence. I believe that I have a very positive outlook and attitude toward life as a result of growing up surrounded by kindness. A community that respected and helped each other. We never locked our doors.

  2. Lorette Lavine says:

    My Jewish husband celebrates Hanukah and I celebrate Christmas! Respectfully loving both traditions! Thank you for sharing!

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