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The Hanukkah Tradition That Comes from My Non-Jewish Mother In Law

Sometimes we create our own traditions, sometimes we carry on a tradition we inherit, and sometimes a tradition can come from unexpected places.


It began with the larger of the two cut-crystal dreidels (top left). My mother-in-law Sue gave it to me the first time I went home with my then-boyfriend for their family Christmas. My Jewish upbringing didn’t include holiday decor of any sort, beyond lighting the Menorah or weekly Shabbat candles. Our traditions comprised mainly of food, presents, food, family, observance, and food. Mmmmmmm fooooooood. I received the crystal driedel in the spirit intended; a loving and thoughtful gesture, as well as a recognition of my heritage.

I had no idea in 1996 that what Sue actually handed me was a family tradition, especially because in 1996 I did not yet know we would become family. I suspect Sue had an inkling.

Despite our best intentions,  not all of our traditions take hold. On Tuesday night– the first night of Hanukkah– we unwrapped each driedel. Our display numbers nineteen and counting, one for each year of our union. As we marveled over the artistry of each one, I told my 11 year old that someday when he and his brother live in their own spaces, they could divide up the collection. Of course he began staking his claim immediately, and arguing about who would get first pick. I don’t tend to brag about my children’s developmental milestones, but this one seems advanced in arguing with siblings over heirlooms. May it serve him well.

My favorite part about our dreidel collection is that it comes from the non-Jewish side of our family, and that Sue (aka “Grandma”) takes time every year looking in galleries and museum shops to find yet another unique Hanukkah gem to add to our collection. From the inside of a culture it’s easy to take it for granted. Sue has not only given us a new tradition, but has helped us elevate the Hanukkah spirit in our home.

This year Grandma gave each boy a dreidel fidget-spinner. Toby approves.

Thank you, Grandma.

Happy Holidays, everyone!!

9 comments… add one

  • Cheryl December 14, 2017, 10:06 am

    Two things:
    1) I have the same round platter. It’s perfect for round challah at Rosh Hashanah.
    2) The first time I met my future SIL, after I’d been dating her brother for about six months, she began walking around the house within minutes of meeting me to tell me which things she already intended on having when her parents died. I guess she knew I was likely to become part of the family too, but it made for an awkward first meeting, for sure.

  • Ann Imig December 14, 2017, 10:35 am

    1) I feel like anyone who got married in the 90s has some item from this collection.

    2) That is bizarre hilarious and unsettling.

  • Melisa December 14, 2017, 2:41 pm

    This is a lovely tradition, especially where it comes from.

    Also, *my* MIL might be related to Cheryl’s SIL. She keeps asking us what we want when she dies so she can add it to her “Death List”. 😳

  • Ann Imig December 17, 2017, 1:39 pm

    Yes, I know some families even prefer to start labeling things early. Fun times.

  • Monica Imig December 15, 2017, 4:50 pm

    Beautiful tradition indeed. Nice fidget spinners.

  • Ann Imig December 17, 2017, 1:38 pm

    I found out Grandma drove all the way to St. Louis and back to get that first crystal dreidel.

  • Vikki December 17, 2017, 8:24 am

    I love this ❤️

  • Ann Imig December 17, 2017, 1:40 pm

    Thanks, Vikki!

  • Sally Hadley Burr December 18, 2017, 1:04 pm

    Oh Ann I know your MIL well. Sue really has the knack of finding just the right gift with much consideration. Once she gets it in her mind she’ll go out of her way to get. I should know because this little mouse sits at the top of my tree 🌲. I am a true Wisconsin Cheesehead!

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