I have a vivid memory of lying across my mother’s lap in the backseat of our Chevy Suburban (before SUVs were an environmental faux pas) on a chilly Texas night. My father was driving, my two older brothers were probably horsing around in the “way back” seat, and my mother’s parents, visiting from Los Angeles, were riding with us. As we drove home from dinner, I distinctly remember our family singing, “Silver Bells” and “Holy Night” while my mother ran her fingers through my hair.
However, no one in the car had ever celebrated a traditional
Christmas. My maternal grandparents are Jewish, as is my mother – and my brothers and I were being raised Jewish. My father, on the other hand, had been raised Catholic in a Chinese household. But memories like these are common from my childhood – lighting the menorah for Hanukkah with a Christmas tree in the background, finding stockings filled with Hanukkah gelt, and singing Christmas carols and our favorite Hanukkah songs. We knew that we were the luckiest kids in the world because we had both holidays. Kids at school would gape in awe, sputtering, “You get Christmas and Hanukkah?! You must get so many presents!” In reality, we probably received the same amount of presents, only they were given at different times and with a different wrapping paper color scheme (blue and white vs. red and green).
On the occasions when we were visiting our family in Los Angeles for the holidays, Christmas day involved a feasting on hot braised shrimp and Hong Kong-style noodles at a Chinese restaurant and then a double feature at the cinema. Our Chinese grandmother would slip us hong bao for the occasion. This mishmash of holiday traditions colors my memories of my childhood winters.
The holiday season is upon us once more. We’ll leave the gift-giving to you, but as for giving back, we’ve featured Beijing charities that need your help the most. It’s as easy as filling a backpack with simple gifts for a child (p63), donating household items (p62), or just giving your time and donations. We know that chilly winters in Beijing call for great indoor activities. Find holiday recipes (p23), make your own snow globe (p56), and play inventive indoor games that don’t cost a cent (p32). So snuggle up, eat yummy food, enjoy the break from school and make your own holiday traditions.
Happy Holidays (whatever yours may be)!