Merging traditions.

My dear friend Elizabeth , Michigander who lives in Germany with her beautiful family posted a picture of her Christmas tree on Facebook. That picture sparked a conversation about different traditions in different cultures and countries. Her tradition is American one of displaying a Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving. Someone responded to her, I think it was her friend from Poland, that their tree comes up just couple of days before Christmas and of course I had to comment too – the Russian tradition is that our tree comes up right before New Year’s and stands in our house for about 2 weeks until Old New Year comes around. 

You see, back then no one was allowed to believe in G-d, we all believed in communism, and all our holidays were also very “communistic”. Therefore, instead of Christmas and Chanukah which was way too religious for us, we celebrated New Year with a New Year tree and Grandpa Frost aka Santa. Our Santa did not have elves and reindeers, he had a granddaughter. I have no idea what her role was, except for looking pretty. I wrote all about this in my old post “My Jewish love for Santa Claus”.

Today I want to tell you about how we tried to merge our New Year tree tradition here in America and how we succeeded!

Imagine us – young Russian Jewish immigrants living in our first 2 bedroom apartment with a 2-year old at the time. We tried to be good parents and tried to teach our young son everything what we knew and of course we did not want him to forget where he came from. New Year’s of 1992 was coming up, my hubby went to get a tree and let me tell you people – after Christmas – trees were free, and we did not have to pay for one. We got our beautiful tree up on the 2nd floor of our flat and started to decorate with all the ornaments we brought with us from Russia.

At around 9:00 p.m. on December 31st my hubby put on a Santa Claus costume (I of course was his granddaughter, as someone had to look pretty!) and he started to give out gifts for our baby and our family – the whole event was a success!!! Satisfied, our little boy went to bed and we continued with our New Year’s party. I thought to myself “My baby now knows that Grandpa frost comes all the way from Russia just to visit him in America!”

The morning after, around 9:00 a.m. we heard a knock on our door – who could that be? We stopped partying at 4:00 o’clock in the morning and surely were not expecting anyone at this hour. (See, there is another Russian tradition: the way you celebrate New Year will be the same way you’ll spend it, so we Russians go out of our way to make sure we have  the best time New Year’s night.)

I opened the door still in my PJs and there was a Rabbi standing at our door wanting to wish us a happy first New Year in America. You should have seen the horror on his face when he saw our New Year’s Tree with the star on top of it. He almost fainted! We invited him inside and offered him some water.  

Little did we know – apparently Jews here were not supposed to have trees in their house during winter Holidays. It took us a while and finally we convinced our Rabbi that it was not a Christmas tree, but a Chanukah bush and since were Russian Jews (what the heck he meant by that I still don’t know.) he allowed us to carry on with our tradition. Since that day forward we have our New Year/Chanukah bush and still love it! Our little boy who is 22 now still expects gifts for Chanukah and and for New Year – yey for Russian – American traditions. Success!


About Ariana

I came to USA about 20 years from former USSR. I am an American Citizen with a heavy Russian Accent. My two boys always make fun of my English. I love to write, I usually do it for me, but if you would like to stop and leave a comment it would be great! I ‘d love to share with you my American World with the hint of my Russian Personality.
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15 Responses to Merging traditions.

  1. Jen says:

    What a nice story Ariana of how you’ve merged your Russian/ Jewish traditions with your Jewish American traditions and made them work.

    I think it’s wonderful that your Rabbi respected your wishes to keep you tree/bush up as I would imagine it carries so many good memories of your family time together before coming to America.

  2. What a great story! My daughter’s closest friends are from Russia, and they had told us all about how important New Year’s is for them. They are Christian, but their family doesn’t care about celebrating Christmas (they’ve lived here about 15 years), but they go all out for New Year’s. It’s lovely to hear when families make an effort to hold on to their traditions. Yours sounds wonderful. 🙂

  3. Phil says:

    The beauty that is America is precisely what you describe, everyone bringing and blending in their own unique twists to holiday traditions. Wishing you and yours all the very best this holiday season, Ariana.

    • Ariana says:

      Thanks Phil! I’ve said it before and I will say it again – America is the best country in the world allowing people to be who they want to be! Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  4. ceceliafutch says:

    I could just picture the look on the rabbi’s face! Enjoy your holidays, and hapy Chanukah, happy new year and all the rest. 🙂

    • Ariana says:

      I have another story you will laugh at it. My girlfriend’s daughter went to Yeshiva school wearing a sweater with Christmas tree on it. It was 20 years ago and we sure did not know the rules!

  5. totsymae1011 says:

    A very charming story. I love learning how you integrate American traditions in your life. There’s always a learning experience in that and it gets really interesting when you want your kids to be aware of his roots. You always have a unique way of making it happen no matter what.

  6. Lena says:

    Yay for successful merging of traditions.!
    Ariana, you just made me nostalgic for a Russian New Years.. I remember my first New Years here – it was sad. At 2 pm Colorado time, right when it turned midnight in Russia, I burst into tears and cried for probably 20 minutes non stop. I threw a Russian New Years party at my house last night. We watched Russian holiday program, ate Russian traditional salads, and even caviar:) It was fun, but still not the same.

    • Ariana says:

      I hear you Lena, nothing like our New Year celebration! We go all the way out to make sure we have a good time that night. We are getting ready to go up north to ski and celebrate the Russian Style!!! Happy New Year !!!!

  7. Rada, that is an awesome story! Thank you for sharing it with me…I am very happy to hear about others’ mixed traditions. Being an ex-pat myself, traditions are really always somewhat of a topic. I loved this story and learning more about you!

  8. Leah says:

    I love this story! And I remember fondly your post about the Santa Claus tradition. I love decorating for Christmas as much as I love my Hanukkah decor.

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