Living in Ottawa away from my family has always been a little tough, especially around the holidays. We usually leave town and go to celebrate with either my in-laws or my parents. However we have built many special friendships in Ottawa and some people have become a second family for us.
We lived in the same home for 12 years and our next door neighbours had similar-aged children and over time we became surrogate family to each other. They are a religious Catholic family. We are Jewish, and don’t celebrate Christmas. One year, Chanukah and Christmas Eve coincided. With both of our families out of town, they invited us over to celebrate with them. They encouraged us to come into their home and share our celebration with them. All four children were between 5 and 8 at this time, so we were a little apprehensive about what the reaction would be to this mixed holiday evening. Would the neighbours feel like we were taking away precious Christmas celebration time? Would our children feel weird about doing our Hebrew prayers in front of others?
So with a little bit of anxiety we packed up our menorah and dreidl and headed out into the snowy evening. We were welcomed with a gust of warmth and love and lots of hugs and holiday cheer. We set up our menorah beside their advent candle. When the time came, we lit our candles and said our prayers, and then watched as they lit their candles and said their prayers. Both the adults and children had lots of questions, and we all learned a lot that night about each other’s religion and traditions. We taught them how to play dreidl, our traditional Chanukah game. They played Christmas carols on the piano and we all joined in. We ate turkey and stuffing and doughnuts and latkes. It was such a wonderful evening where the holidays were made so much more special because we were able to share them. I will never forget that magical holiday.