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Her holiday traditions were a Hanukkah and Christmas mash-up

December 25, 2010 |  6:00 am

Essay It's become a tradition at the L.A. Times Food section: Every year we run a Christmas essay by a noted Southern California writer reflecting the unique nature of the way we celebrate the holidays. This year's is by novelist Michelle Huneven, whose books include "Round Rock," "Jamesland" and the most recent, "Blame," all of which are set in the Southland:

I was so pleased to be asked to write this Christmas essay, I forgot that I am to a large degree Jewish — which was pretty much how everyone in my family always encountered Christmas, with a convenient amnesia.

My mother, a nonpracticing Jew from Delaware, had married a non-practicing Protestant in California. Sometimes, certainly not always, Jew + Protestant = Unitarian, and that is what we were — "Jewnitarians," as I like to say.

Living in Altadena, attending public schools in the 1960s, we were swept up into the holiday mood. We had Christmas trees my mother called Hanukkah bushes, upon which little mesh bags of gelt (gold-wrapped chocolate coins) hung alongside metallic glass balls and colored lights. The crowning ornament was a star, in our case, six-pointed and blue. On Christmas Eve, we had a fire, invited both sets of grandparents and drank my mother's vein-mortaring eggnog (cream, egg yolks and sugar), served to the adults with a glug of rum or brandy and a grating of nutmeg.



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Illustration: Dermot Flynn / For The TImes