A Tale of Two Religions


image Last year Hanukkah and Christmas collided:  Elisabeth lights the Menorah in the shadow of the Christmas tree. 

Marrying someone from a different faith certainly has its advantages.  Although Ben converted to Judaism before our marriage, his family most definitely did not.  Growing up, Elisabeth celebrated Passover with matzo balls and gefilte fish – and a few days later, at Meemaw Webb’s house she hunted for Easter eggs in a pretty pastel dress.    During December – after lighting the menorah and reciting the prayers in Hebrew, a week or two later, at her aunt and uncle’s ranch, she would put out cookies and milk for Santa Claus.   Was it confusing for a young child?  Perhaps.   But even when our future children were still an abstract thought, Ben and I made some decisions.   Our children – if we would be lucky to have any (and in retrospect, we were lucky only once) – would be raised Jewish.    Ben felt deeply there should be only one religion in the family, so his conversion came easily to him – though not to  his mother who ended up on a psychiatrist’s couch over it (which we laugh about today, 22 years later.)    Another decision we came to in the early years of our marriage, was we would send our children to a Jewish day school.   Hopefully, their immersion in their religion would be intense and they would never have any doubts of “what” they were.    Elisabeth’s first day at a Jewish school was when she was just 10 months old, and her last will be this May after spending a month in Israel with her senior class.  In between those 18 years, she has never stepped foot in a public school.  Sheltered?  Probably.   Assured of her religion?  Of that, there is no doubt. 


  image  The invitation to  Elisabeth’s Bat Mitzvah.   I loved the colors and the bow – with hydrangeas petals! 


But, having a Catholic grandmother is fun.   Jewish holidays are mostly morose and serious.   Passover is the story of the Jewish people escaping from the Pharaoh and slavery – wandering through the desert for 40 years, surviving plagues – locusts, lice, boils and even the killing of their first born – so festive!  Hanukkah is the story of  the destruction of the temple and oil miraculously burning for 8 days.   On Yom Kippur we pray to God that he will forgive us our sins of the past year and let us live for one more year, but only if he writes our names in his Book of Life for another 365   days.   We don’t have lovable symbols like an Easter Bunny, all pretty and fluffy with pink and lilac eggs filled with chocolates and pennies.   We don't have Santa Claus, a jolly fat man with a white beard and cute elves who brings us toys through the chimney on a sleigh driven by reindeer.  No, our holidays aren’t filled with candy canes and gingerbread houses, we eat kugel and  Hamentaschen and corned beef.     So getting to celebrate both faith’s holidays is wonderful  - serious and fun at the same time.  In the end, holidays are really about one thing, spending time together with your family. 


batmitzvah 007Elisabeth, 13, at her Bat Mitzvah luncheon.    My mother and father sent her this beautiful urn of roses, peonies, and just about every other pink flower for the center table.   



The Webb Family Hanukkah:

hanuk09 019 My Living Room:

In December we get to celebrate both holidays.  First, I host my family’s Hanukkah dinner.  It’s basically the same menu each year, beef tender, salad, potato latkes and some kind of vegetable casserole and a pie.    The only thing that changes from year to year is the color of roses.   Here is my living room, the first room you see when you enter my house.


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My only festive decorations I added in this room were a new orchid and a few votives. 



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Past the entry hall and living room is the dining room on the left and the stairs on the right.   Since my dining room is relatively small – I have to set an extra table here for six.   Our immediate family is growing!   One nephew is now married with a little daughter, and my other nephew’s new girlfriend goes everywhere he goes.  Once we get a few more babies and Elisabeth starts her own family, I will have to set up another table in the living room.   For now, this arrangement works perfectly.  


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On Hanukkah, I always use my wedding china and mix it with my Pottery Barn green glasses.  This year I added white roses in mercury glass vases. 



hanuk09 002 Right across from the smaller table is the dining room – set exactly the same way. 




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A close up.  I liked the white roses against all the white linen and creamware.  But my first choice were pink roses – unfortunately the flower shop was out of them.



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In the family room, where everyone hangs out and we exchange gifts – I put out more votives and another orchid.   No one really decorates for Hanukkah.   The only time you might decorate is when your children are really young,  and even then, it’s all very subdued, not anything like Christmas decorations.  



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I was busy getting the dinner ready so I wasn’t able to take too many pictures. 




Our Hanukkah gift giving is very civilized.    On Thanksgiving we exchange names – one gift for one person.  There’s not really a limit, but we all stay within a reasonable price range.  Of course the little ones get gifts from the whole family.   In this picture - my nephew gives his niece and my great-niece a new tricycle.    She is such a cutie – I could just eat her up!!!     


After Hanukkah is over (occasionally Hanukkah falls during Christmas which makes it an exceptionally hectic time)  we start working in earnest on Christmas.   We spend days wrapping all the gifts, packing up the cars (one car isn’t enough to hold all the loot) and head out to Chappell Hill, Texas, a teeny tiny town a hour (and a world’s) away from Houston.   Ben’s brother Kirk lives there on a ranch called, originally enough, the KW.    Almost all the Webbs come for Christmas at the KW – and all the Wills are there – Kirk’s wife Shannon’s family.   And, there are an assortment of other families that join in.   It’s an extravaganza, from the food to the presents to the wine to decorations – all of it is very over-the-top and tons of fun.    We don’t exchange names with this family – instead everyone gets everyone a gift.   Close family members get more than one gift – two, three, sometimes four!     Each year we swear to each other we didn’t go overboard, yet everyone always does.  Ben, Lizzy and I stay in Chappell Hill way past Christmas, sometimes even past New Years – it takes that long to get over the excitement. 


The Webb Family Christmas:

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Recession?   What recession?    Christmas Eve, 2009. 




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Just remember – these are all for three families with children, plus a few more families that stop by.    My gift wrapping theme this year was Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Tiffany Blue bags in polka dots or black houndstooth.



Xmas09 025We open the presents on Christmas day.   Ben, his mother, and Elisabeth – along with one of the five English Springer Spaniel dogs take a moment to breathe.   My nephew got the talking, electronic globe on the coffee table.   What will they think of next?




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Santa left archery equipment for my nephew and his cousin.




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My niece got her own personalized Snuggie in hot pink.



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So did Elvis Costello – I mean, Ben’s brother Kirk – and my nephew.   They can have their own Snuggie party now!



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Awwwww!!!  Look who else got his own Snuggie!  AND it’s in University of Texas burnt orange.    Awwwwwwwww.  He’s so sexy!   The beard is a whole other story (it has to do with UT being in the BCS championship game.)    My sister in law Shannon is responsible for all the Snuggies – of course she didn’t get herself one!



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The Princess cleans up.   After 8 days of Hanukkah gifts – she got Christmas gifts too.   Santa went Louboutin’s just for her, I’m sure.




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Two terrorists invaded our peaceful Christmas.    Their first real rifles!   That’s my nephew on the left.   He literally followed me around asking for his picture to be taken with his new rifle.   I was too scared to tell him “No!!!”    The cutie on the right is his first cousin.




Xmas09 040The Country Girl:    My niece Caroline got the best present of all – a new horse named Surely, a two year old very frisky paint.    Isn’t she a beauty?   They both are!



Xmas09 066 The Galleria Girl:      My niece isn’t all country.   The Louie bag was her second favorite gift!   




Xmas09 059 And her parents built her a new tack room for all her horse accessories – blankets, saddles, brushes, etc.   She painted it bright turquoise with hot pink accents.  Of course!



Xmas09 068 The two terrorists switched from their guns to their arrows during Christmas afternoon.



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We had a green Christmas!  All the boxes, ribbons and wrappings that couldn’t be reused for next year’s festivities were burned in the fire pit rather than go in the garbage.  



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Plotting their next move, the terrorists switched their attention to the Christmas tree pinata! 



Xmas09 096 New rifles in tow, the tiny terrorists head out to try their guns:   target practice down in the river basin.  They are in their camouflage jackets, which actually work – you can just barely see them on top of the jeep. 





The sweets:   well, what can I say?   Shannon made the two gingerbread houses which are adorable.  






Everywhere you look, there is candy!  



The Day After:


All cleaned up.  Everyone’s gone except for immediate family.  Now the fun really begins.  Meemaw will start sweeping the floors and Shannon’s mom will do the laundry – excessively.   The rest of us will eat.



xmas2 005Meemaw Webb tries on her new Christmas gifts:  the outfit and the necklace.  Looking great Meemaw! 



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Shannon shows off her two new purses!    She couldn’t decide which one to use first.




Aww- hahaha.  Gotcha!    Caught in our warm pjs – Meemaw and me looking at blogs together one morning.  Quiela (who is my dog Georgie’s litter mate) keeps us company.   It’s all over for another year.   Next holidays will be so different.  My child will be in college, home for winter break.  Hard to even think about that and what other changes there will be – hopefully all great changes.  


I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday – no matter what you celebrate!!  And here’s to everyone  - wishing you a happy and healthy New Years!!!!

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