‘Tis the Season

Three families share their holiday traditions

By Laura Ross

Adam and Danielle Loewy and their children – Charlie, 14, Elliott, 12, and Maren, 9.

It’s almost time to make a list and check it twice….or three or four or more times. Planning for the holidays is stressful enough, but the game is amped up a bit for some families when differing faiths, blended families or long-distance loved ones are involved. The pace of modern life can become overwhelming, and those family traditions may teeter in the whirl of schedules, travel and family dynamics. Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house might transition to Skype time on the laptop.

How do busy families balance this? For a few local families, the holidays mean embracing change, enjoying traditions and building new memories unique to their family.

The best of both worlds

Adam and Danielle Loewy and their children – Charlie, 14, Elliott, 12, and Maren, 9 – spend a busy holiday season celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. “We see it as the best of both worlds,” said Danielle. “It’s important to us to have family traditions from both faiths. When we became parents, people warned us that we needed to ‘choose’ a faith tradition and said the children would be confused, but they’re not. They have always understood that the holidays are about respecting everyone. We’ve raised them to be very open minded, and our kids appreciate all religions and cultures.”

Danielle, who admits she is a “die-hard Christmas fan,” starts playing and singing Christmas music in the early fall and revels in decorating their home, baking cookies and wrapping gifts. “The whole month of December has that feeling of a warm glow. Even though you’re busy and running around, you’re still happy and together in so many moments of love and appreciation for your family,” she said. “It’s even more noticeable for me as we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.”

“For Hanukkah, we celebrate eight nights where we share a dinner, light the menorah, sing a prayer and end with small gifts for the kids, like a book, puzzle or game,” said Adam. “Each night we invite different family members, my parents, Danielle’s family – who are not Jewish – and others, just to have everyone together.”

The Loewy’s share special meals throughout Hanukkah, including one night where Adam’s father makes potato latkes, which the Loewy children love. When Christmas arrives, Danielle and her mother focus on a long-time family ritual of cooking a large, Italian dinner – usually seafood pasta – on Christmas Eve. “We’ve done that for years,” Danielle laughed. “I think we all actually look more forward to that meal than the traditional turkey and ham the next day.”

The Loewy family loves music, and a special new activity they enjoy is playing music together – with Charlie on the baritone, Elliott on drums and the piano and Maren singing and playing piano. “We’ve recorded music as a family during the holidays,” said Adam. “The kids look forward to these traditions and as they grow older, they’re holding on to the togetherness, which is what it’s all about.”

‘Merry Christmas Adam!’

When Beth Milford Orberson was growing up, she and her three brothers were playing on Dec. 23 and looking forward to the imminent arrival of Christmas. Her brother said, “Hey, it’s Christmas Adam, get it?” – as in Adam and (Christmas) Eve. A Milford family tradition began and, henceforth, Dec. 23 was called Christmas Adam.

Beth Milford Orberson, center, with Olivia, David and their dog, Rio.

The quirky name stuck, and when Beth married David Orberson in 2004 and gained a young stepdaughter, Olivia, Christmas Adam became integral to their new lives together. The young family needed to balance hectic corporate jobs, a blended family and holiday travel to see family out of town.

Since Olivia would share Christmas with David and Beth and her mom and stepfather, as well as grandparents and family in different cities, the holidays became a whirlwind. The Orbersons decided that Christmas Adam would become their own special holiday.

“Christmas Adam on Dec. 23 is treasured time for just David, Olivia and me,” said Beth. “We received a fondue pot for a wedding gift and hadn’t used it yet. So, I found some fondue recipes and we had a selection of chicken and steak, crusty bread, green apples, and broccoli and a Gruyere-based cheese fondue. After dinner, we all settled on the family room sofa for what would become our annual viewing of ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.’ Midway through the movie, I brought out dessert, which was chocolate fondue with various fruits, pound cake, marshmallows and pretzels. Our Christmas Adam tradition was born.”

Today, Olivia is a 22-year old senior at the University of Louisville. “I think Christmas Adam is extra special, because it is so unique,” said Olivia. “It is a way to have time with just Beth, Dad and our dog, Rio. We eat fondue, talk about life and our plan for that year’s Christmas get togethers. This never gets old or less funny. I really look forward to this day because I disconnect from life for a few hours and focus on family.”

“I think David and I did a nice job of starting with our individual family traditions and then evolving those to create our own,” said Beth. “With the addition of Christmas Adam, everyone gets to spend quality time with their respective families.”

Olivia agreed, “I don’t think I will ever get bored with anything to do with my family. I have so many parts to my big family and two step-families. I realize how fortunate I am to be loved by so many people.”

Through the eyes of a child

Young married couple Kim and Josh Elder see the holidays as a time to spend with family and friends, enjoying good food, drinks and conversation. The holidays took on a new meaning during the past two years with the addition of their children – Harper, 2, and baby Sage, 2 months. “We get to experience the holidays now through the eyes of our children,” said Kim.

Not only are the Elders growing their family, they’re growing new holiday traditions. Like the Loewys, the Elder family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas. “We give our daughters Christmas ornaments every year like our parents did for us,” said Kim. “Additionally, I look for Hanukkah-themed ornaments each year. Hanukkah isn’t a holiday that is celebrated with ornaments, but growing up, my family had a Hanukkah bush, so I have continued this tradition and look for ornaments to put on it each year.”

Kim and Josh Elderwith their children – Harper, 2, and baby Sage, 2 months.

Josh, who was raised Catholic, gave Kim a Hanukkah book each year. “He did this even before we had children, and I remember how touched I was that first year we were married that he thought not only of my faith but also of our future children,” said Kim.

Their children are wrapped in a large family celebration during the holidays. “Every year, Josh’s extended family gets together for a huge Christmas party with at least 60 people in attendance,” said Kim. “We also celebrate Hanukkah together with my family one night. Growing up, we always had brisket, potato latkes, green beans and applesauce. Over the last few years, we’ve changed it up a bit just for fun by having Mexican, Italian and Thai food for our Hanukkah meal instead.”

New traditions are on the horizon as the Elder’s two girls grow. “The time with our families is so special,” said Kim. “I think having children has reminded us of the magic of the holidays and allowed us to experience that joy all over again. We are excited to see what new traditions our girls embrace.”

Merry Everything

Everyone agreed that ultimately, it’s important to not sweat the small stuff. Dishes will burn. A toy may break. Santa (or the post office) might be overdue on package delivery times. The key is to breathe, keep the peace and focus on making lasting memories to create a happier family experience.

“At the end of the holidays, it’s all just about caring for and respecting each other,” said Adam Loewy. “For us, the holidays mean taking a moment at the end of the year to be together as a family and reflect on the past year. We are lucky that we mix in fun memories and family togetherness. It’s what starts the coming year right.” VT