Interfaith families can create “Holiday Fusion” with Hanukkah and Christmas decor

You might not know it from my last name, but I’m Jewish. My husband, a Sullivan, is Irish Catholic, and after we got married, we proceeded to celebrate the holidays — including and particularly Hanukkah and Christmas — of both religions.

Each December, we put up a Christmas tree, from which we hang the decorations we have collected together over the years (a handblown glass dreidel shares the branches of our fir tree each holiday season with the miniature drums that had adorned my husband’s childhood Christmas trees, for example), and our menorah and several other Hanukkah decorations are displayed along with our other Christmas paraphernalia throughout the house.

Many interfaith families I know follow a similar tradition, and recently, I heard an actual term — “holiday fusion,” a phrase coined by the staff at Hansen’s Flower Shop in Fairfield and Bruce’s Flowers in Norwalk (both stores owned by Bruce Minoff) — to describe the amalgamation of Hanukkah and Christmas decor.

At home, Minoff and his wife, Yvonne, combine the traditions of Hanukkah and Christmas with their own grown children and grandchildren. “We usually have a small tree done up with respect to both religions,” Minoff says. “It’s not loaded with crosses or the baby Jesus; and it’s not loaded with Stars of David. There are just beautiful seasonal decorations.”

The Minoffs’ Christian and Jewish kids and grandkids all get to light the menorah, and both sides come for Christmas breakfast., according to Bruce Minoff, who is something of a pioneer with the trend of holiday fusion: “Even growing up in an all-Jewish family, my mother, who loved the holidays, would have a small tree we called a Hanukkah bush,” he reminisces, “and she would put up a winter scene with figurines on a skating pond.”

Nancy Gardiner, a designer for Hansen’s Flower Shop, observes that families today are very inclusive. “Consequently, we see a lot of combining of traditions, and that spirit spills over into the decor, as well,” she says. “We may make one of our popular boxwood tree arrangements using all blue and white decorations for Hanukkah, or a long, low centerpiece with pine, juniper, holly, and cedar that features candles for the Festival of Lights but is equally appropriate on the Christmas dinner table. Evergreens, white birch twigs, candles … these are not Jewish or Christian materials but rather they are seasonal, winter design elements that are perfect for any celebration at this time of year.”

Malcolm Katz, 18, has worked at Hansen’s for two years and shares his firsthand insight with customers looking to create some holiday fusion. “Coming from a family with both Jewish and Christian roots, with cousins visiting from both sides to decorate the tree and light the menorah, holidays at our house are busy and eventful,” he says. For families blending both Hanukkah and Christmas traditions and decor, Katz recommends choosing a beautiful centerpiece that is winter themed with no clear religious overtones. “Roses or mums in white, with winter greens and touches of metallics like silver or copper are always appropriate when creating that uplifting holiday spirit,” he notes.

Trudy Dujardin, owner of interior design firm Dujardin Design, with offices in Westport and Nantucket, is also experienced in the art of holiday decorating. She has decorated dozens of clients’ homes and has provided vignettes and Christmas trees for holiday showcases. “The trick is to make a room festive without overdoing it,” she explains. “You have to know when to say ‘that’s enough,’ and that’s a hard line to draw at the holidays!”

Dujardin is similarly experienced in the art of holiday fusion. “One of my favorite memories is decorating the Greenwich home of a longtime client, who celebrates Christmas but wanted to honor Hanukkah, too, for her Jewish beau,” Dujardin recalls. “Blending the two holidays meant that in addition to creating seven different Christmas trees throughout the house, we relied on greenery and fresh flowers, as well as adding blue and white touches.”

In the Hanukkah spirit

Many of my Jewish friends complain that the stores carry very little Hanukkah decorating merchandise: “Come November or December, there’s one tiny Hanukkah endcap, compared to aisle after aisle of Christmas stuff,” is what they usually say, and I have to agree.

Fortunately, I have discovered some new and unexpected sources of Hanukkah decorating paraphernalia, including, a website dedicated to providing a beautiful, comprehensive selection of Jewish items, particularly for Hanukkah.

Lisa Fero, creator of the website, which was launched two years, has over 10 years’ experience as an interior designer. With many interfaith clients, Fero found herself trying to decorate homes for both Christmas and Hanukkah, but finding little in the way of Hanukkah merchandise. “I decided to create a website that would offer a curated collection of fresh, stylish decor and gifts for modern Jewish living,” she explains. “What started with a desire to create updated and contemporary Hanukkah decorations has now expanded into a full lifestyle brand that includes gift, holiday, home, jewelry, and wedding collections.”

When decorating for interfaith families, Fero believes that sticking with a feeling and color scheme is most important to achieve a cohesive look. “This might include a farmhouse look with white and natural materials, a more glam look with metallics, or a winter wonderland with snowflakes and shades of blue and white,” she explains.

For Hanukkah, the website offers traditional blue and white Hanukkah-themed items, but also a variety of metallics, such as silver, gold, and bronze, plus chalkboard menorahs, Hanukkah signs — which are available in navy with white letters, cream with gold letters, or framed in white with black letters — Star of David votive holders, Signs of the Season banners, and burlap garlands, tea towels, paper napkins, and pillows, among others.

Trudy Dujardin’s “Eight days of Hanukkah” decorating tips:

1) The rule is white, blue and sparkle! Since Hanukkah is the festival of lights, candles everywhere add a welcoming holiday glow. In addition to a classic or whimsical menorah, you can add more candles set around the room — try them in blue candle holders.

2) It doesn’t have to be all blue and white: add silver and gold for a bit of glamour.

3) If you have a collection of blue and white china, or antique Chinese export porcelain, this is the time to get it out. Place it on a white tablecloth, and add white roses for a centerpiece.

4) Greenery is nondenominational, and brings the garden indoors during the cold winter. Live plants, such as potted rosemary topiaries, can add fragrance as well as evergreen color.

5) Let it snow! Glittering snowflakes and fake snow scattered on tabletops or on top of greenery proclaim a love of winter.

6) Dreidels are a sign of the season. Fill a glass bowl with dreidels of all sizes and colors, or place an arrangement under a cloche.

7) For a mantle top, consider garlands of greenery interspersed with precious blue and white Hanukkah ornaments and white votive candles. Strings of white lights can be wound around potted plants, centerpieces, and mirrors. Let that sparkly feeling spread cheer around the entire house.

8) Don’t forget the cookies, decorated in beautiful shades of blue and white. They’ll look pretty whether on a tray or in your children’s hands.