All Together Now!

Lynn Serwin and her husband Dean celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah — and add in their twins’ birthday for a highly personalized holiday season they call BirHanuMas.
Photo by Henk Friezer

THERE’S Veteran’s Day. And Thanksgiving. And then Hanukkah. And then Christmas. And then Kwanzaa.

But that wasn’t enough for Dean and Lynn Serwin of South Pasadena.

They’ve gone and come up with BirHanuMas.

You read that right.

For the South Pasadena couple of different religious backgrounds — he is Jewish, she was raised Catholic — BirHanuMas is a highly personalized, month-long celebration that combines the birthdate of their 17-year-old twins on Nov. 20, plus Hanukkah and Christmas, ending on either the last day of the Jewish holiday or Christmas Day.

“Our holiday has become something new,’’ Dean explained. “Our choice, when we decided to have children, was to expose them to both religious traditions.’’

Recalled Lynn: “When the kids were growing up, they were saying, ‘Where’s my gift?’ ’

The gifts, they kept on coming — for the kids’ birthday, Christmas and on the first and last nights of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is Jewish Festival of Lights. It starts this year on Dec. 22 and continues for eight days. It celebrates the victory of Jewish troops over Greek soldiers, the miracle of purified oil that burned for eight days and the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

“Now that they are older, they might get one BirHanuMas gift and a lot of little ones,’’ Lynn said.

Oy. You can get a headache following the traditions of this family.

“We have fresh greenery on the front door and a fresh garland out front under the front windows,’’ Dean said. “We usually put ornaments out front, and we have a lighted wreath in the house and some lights in each room. We have a big tree in the front window and then we have Bob — a 3-foot tree in the family room.

“And as for menorahs, we have a toy wooden one with wood flames you place into the candles each night (and) a small traveling one that is sort of kid-oriented. There is one that my mother had, and the menorah we use most of the time.

“I am sure I am forgetting something, but you get the idea.’’

Then there is the food. Each child has friends over, or out, for dinner on their birthdays; and the family goes to an annual Hanukkah party at friends, where Lynn makes the latkes. Then the family goes to an annual Christmas Eve party at friends, and there is caroling.

“On Christmas Day, we order Chinese food and then we make the ridiculous dinner of lamb chops, king crab legs, smoked duck, Brussels sprouts and scalloped potatoes.’’

Dean was raised as a conservative Jew. Lynn was raised Catholic, but no longer practices and considers herself a “spiritual person who believes in God.’’ Dean considers himself religious “with a lower-case ‘r.’ ’’

The Serwins have their family traditions to blend birthdays and religious backgrounds, but there are other couples with similar backgrounds who celebrate in other ways.

Sherry Plotkin’s son is Jewish and her daughter-in-law is Catholic and the children are being raised Catholic.

Sherry, also of South Pasadena, explained that her family does Christmas Eve and Christmas, and they call the next day “Hanukkah day,’’ when the children get their presents and light a menorah.

“Our granddaughters feel an attraction to Hanukkah, so we celebrate the cultural parts — making latkes, lighting the candles and playing dreidel,’’ Sherry said. “Other members of the extended family will sometimes come in. They always celebrate Hanukkah the day after Christmas no matter when the Jewish holiday falls, because people are off and able to attend.’’

The Plotkins go to their daughter-in-law’s family on Christmas Eve for a large dinner and gift exchange.

Sherry and Stephen Plotkin talked about the holiday to their 5-year-old’s class. Their granddaughter helped with the prayers.

“Our 3-year-old just likes the beauty and fun of it,” said Sherry.

Joey Angel-Field of South Pasadena, who is going to rabbinical school, said his mother no longer associates with Catholicism, and his late father was Jewish.

He still helps his mother decorate her Christmas tree; they used to attend church as family two days a year, Easter and Christmas, “although that has dwindled some,’’ he said.

“My mother tells me she encouraged my dad to celebrate Hanukkah when they were dating,’’ he said. “She has been very supportive of the cultural traditions as well as the religious ones. She is a regular attendee at synagogue.’’

His father, like his father before him, was a big fan of Christmas melodies, Angel-Field recalled.

“For my mom, the solidarity of Christmas is important to her feelings of familial unity,’’ he said.

At this point, dear readers, you may be shaking your head, and hoping that there is not a quiz.

But wait, there’s more.

Because don’t forget about Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is a week-long annual celebration that is observed from Dec. 26-Jan. 1, and which celebrates African heritage, unity and culture. It has seven core principals and culminates in gift-giving and a feast.

The holiday was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies. It joins values and practices of Continental African and American culture.

The Pasadena Public Library’s La Pintoresca branch, at 1355 N. Raymond, will be hosting its 31st annual commemoration of the holiday in a celebration of family, community and culture on Friday, Dec. 27 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We have had a great reception to our celebrations,’’ said Melvin Racelis, the branch senior librarian.

“It has brought the neighborhood together, and people who did not know about it learned about the holiday.’’

The candle-lighting part of the ceremony will be led by Thanayi A. Karenga, principal of the Limbiko Tembo School of African Culture and daughter of Maulana Karenga.

Here’s hoping the Serwins won’t be too tired to attend.

Andy Lippman’s “Spiritually Speaking” column appears monthly in the Review.