Family Traditions Filled with Love

. December 1, 2014.
KarisFamily-small

A “CaJew” Christmas/Hanukkah

The Kairis family melds Catholic and Jewish traditions

Shawn and Mindy Kairis have seamlessly merged their two religious celebrations, Christmas and Hanukkah, into two large gatherings that unite both sides of their extended families. Shawn’s Catholic family travels to Mindy’s family for Hanukkah, and Mindy’s Jewish side attends their Christmas celebrations. Mindy jokes that one of the perks of marrying a Catholic boy is finally having a Christmas tree. “All Jews want a tree; I don’t care what they say!”

Shawn and Mindy and their two children, Estella, 3, and Max, 3 months, attend a “Hanukkah extravaganza,” complete with Mindy’s mom dancing to “super, super loud Hanukkah music. She has her Star of David on and she’s decked out, head to toe, in blue and white Hanukkah garb.” After everyone eats an array of food, including potato latkes, applesauce, and “anything fried,” they light the menorah, play dreidel, and present gifts to the grandkids.

For their Christmas festivities, the Kairis family heads to Shawn’s family for Christmas Eve. Sometimes they attend midnight mass, which Estella calls “the place where you get candy,” and they typically exchange a few gifts that night. On Christmas Day, Mindy’s family joins them, and after exchanging more gifts, both extended families dine together. Mindy laughs, “Last year we went out for Chinese on Christmas Day like a good Jewish/Catholic family.” As part of family tradition, Shawn’s family places oranges in the Christmas stockings, which dates back to his grandparents and the Depression era, as “a reminder that we may prosper now, but not always.”

Ashraf Photography

Celebrating Community

The Ali family honors family and friends during the holidays

While the Ali family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, they do enjoy the festivities surrounding it. Sana Ali reminisces, “When we were kids, we used to put up holiday lights because it was fun. On Christmas Day, we wouldn’t have presents or anything, but if we saw Santa Claus, we were excited.” She adds, laughing, “I never thought Santa was real though because no one ever brought me presents!”

Sana says that her two children, Sulaiman, 4, and Sarah, 3, participate in any holiday activities that are presented by the school. Sana reflects, “For us, Christianity and Judaism are considered part of the Book. If you don’t respect the Bible, Torah, or Koran, it’s considered wrong.”

The Ali’s two major annual celebrations are Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. Eid Al-Fitr varies each year because Islam follows the lunar calendar, but it is the Muslim holiday most similar to Christmas. The Muslim community gathers together, celebrating with food, and the children receive gifts and money throughout the day. Eid Al-Fitr honors the end of Ramadan and its 30-day fast. Sana says traditionally they dress in their best clothes, which in Pakistani culture means shalwar-kameez (“really long, colorful shirts and pants made out of silk”), and attend the mosque for prayers and a sermon. Eid Al-Adha, on the other hand, celebrates the end of Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

Lisa Feather Photography

First Christmas

The Houghtalings spend their first Christmas as a family of four

The Houghtalings look forward to the holidays each year, but this Christmas will be a special celebration. It is the first Christmas they will be a family of four. Sara and John Houghtaling have two daughters, Ava, 6, and Adalyn (Addy), 3, and both girls were adopted from China. While Ava has been with her parents for 4 years, this will be Addy’s first Christmas in America as a Houghtaling.

In the Houghtaling household, Christmas decorations are plentiful, focusing on a “huge tree decorated in almost strictly Chinese ornaments from all of our travels to China.” Sara says, “I’m really excited for Addy to see the Christmas tree because I don’t think she’s ever seen something like that.” She then jokingly adds, “I will just need to keep her little fingers away from it!” Christmas Eve is just as big as Christmas for the Houghtalings, and after a family lunch with Sara’s father’s family, they all head to Christmas Eve service at United Church of Christ “decked out in Christmas attire.” When the girls arrive home, Christmas Eve gifts await them: Christmas pajamas, a Christmas movie, and a holiday treat. They snuggle up to watch their Christmas flick before finally calling it a night.

Christmas morning is a flurry of excitement as the presents are opened. The Houghtalings meet Sara’s father’s family for a gift exchange and breakfast, and later in the afternoon, they join up with Sara’s mother’s family for yet another gift exchange for the kids. The extended family plays card and board games before everyone “passes out.” Sara only hopes this Christmas will be less exciting than last year; Ava broke out in hives due to an allergic reaction to her Christmas present, a guinea pig.

MackenzieLynn Photography

The True Meaning of Christmas

 The Novotny family hopes to teach their daughters the joy of giving

Jessica and Dan Novotny have two daughters, Annabelle, 2, and Penelope, 7 months, and Jessica says that she hopes her daughters learn that Christmas “isn’t just about presents.” To help their eldest daughter realize the “true meaning of Christmas,” they bought Annabelle her first nativity set. She loves hearing the story of “baby Jesus,” and she can already identify the “wisemen” in her Christmas books. Jessica also plans on starting a Christmas jar full of ideas on how to give to others. Annabelle will choose a slip of paper every other day, and on that piece of paper will be selfless suggestions, such as “Make cookies for grandma” or “Donate to the Salvation Army.” Jessica reflects, “She’s so spoiled–she gets so many presents–and I’m really looking forward to her giving to others.”

With “so many families to please on both sides,” Christmas for the Novotny family can be a bit chaotic, but Jessica Novotny says she loves everything about Christmas: “the lights, the music, the decorations…and, of course, the presents.” Christmas Eve is spent with Jessica’s father’s family, and then Christmas morning Jessica and Dan spend the morning alone with their girls. Christmas Day is spent with Jessica’s mom. In the midst of all of that, Dan’s family comes to visit from out of town. Jessica says it’s “tough to organize everything with all of the different families, but it’s great they come to us. They realize how difficult it is to travel with two little ones.”