Spreading Cheer and Sharing Diversity

. December 2, 2013.

Findlay families may celebrate different holidays at different times and in different ways. Yet, as the families profiled on this page demonstrate, we all share something in common.


The Shaheen Family

When Jihad Shaheen’s children were young, the Christmas season was another chance to explain some of the traditions of their Muslim faith. As Muslims, they do not eat pork or drink alcohol. They abide by the Five Pillars, or rules, of Islam that include acknowledging that there is only one Allah (God), prayer, fasting and giving to charity or the poor and performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. They observe two main religious holidays, neither of which is Christmas. “We bring them up according to Islamic traditions and hopefully it sinks in,” says Shaheen, whose children with his wife Rauda range in age from 13 to 24. “We don’t celebrate Christmas but I don’t stop my kids from learning about it.”

Their Holiday Celebrations

The family celebrates Eid ul Fitr, which comes at the end of the month-long fasting of Ramadan. Ramadan uses fasting and self-sacrifice to bring Muslims closer to their faith, and is observed according to the lunar calendar. This year Ramadan began July 8. The Shaheens went to his mother’s house to joyfully break their fast, visit with family and share a celebratory meal. The other major Muslim holiday is Eid ul Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj. In 2007 and 2008 this holiday, also set by the lunar calen- dar, fell in December. The Shaheens respect their friends’ and neighbors’ celebration of Christmas, and don’t stop their children from going to Christmas parties, or sing- ing Christmas songs at a concert. They put up lights in the house and call them “eid,” or festival lights instead of Christmas lights, during their own celebrations. They do make clear, however, the distinction between respecting other people’s traditions and observing their own. “When they were little they would ask about Santa and we would say Santa is not for us,” he says. Ultimately, Christmas Day will be spent at home or visiting family and friends. “For us, it’s just another day,” he says.

The Washington Family

During Christmas, Marc Washington celebrates the birth of Jesus. For the week after, however, he celebrates part of his African-American heritage. That’s because Washington, the father of three grown children, began incorporating Kwanzaa into his family’s holiday observances many years ago. In addition to the lights, gifts and religious services of Christmas, Washington and his family also observe the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

New Traditions

“We’ve always had an interest in our culture and after we’d done it for several years word had gotten around and we started doing some presentations in the area,” says Washington, who credits his wife for making it part of the family’s tradition. Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration that starts De- cember 26. It was begun in 1966 as a way for African-Americans to celebrate themselves and their history. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa focuses on a positive principle for meditation and celebration: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. “We would think about people in our family who demonstrated the different disciplines. Each night a different principle was explained – who do we know who represents those qualities and what does that mean?” he says. “Hopefully it gives some inspiration to kids so they might strive to find those qualities in themselves.” Part of Kwanzaa is the exchanging of gifts, but the gifts are, ideally, handmade such as bookmarks, scarves or other items.

Gifts and Symbols

Part of Washington’s decorations have included the kinara, a candelabra with seven candles, that is lit each night. Washington, a deacon at Bethel Baptist Church in Fostoria, says Kwanzaa is not a substitute for Christmas but rather an addition to it. “Some might say it’s a black thing or a separatist thing, but it’s not that,” he says. “It’s built around the belief that you’ll get far with hard work and dedication and that’s for everybody.”

The Krummerer Family

For the Kummerer family, Christmas is a time to make merry with family, enjoy the cozy comforts of home, give to others and – of course as Christians – be thankful for the birth of Jesus.“We love being with family and being able to celebrate religion with other people in a heightened way,” Natalie Kummerer said. “…I love that during (the Christmas season) everyone is more focused on the important things in life versus all of the things you just need to do
to make it.”

Favorite Christmas Activities

Natalie and Andy Kummerer, parishioners at St. Michael the Arch- angel Parish, have lived in Findlay for two years with their children, Urban, 5, and Luci, 3. Gratitude for the birth of Jesus and his sacrifices are the driving force behind their Christmas traditions.

Favorite activities through the season include picking up Giving Tree requests to help others less fortunate, volunteering, enjoying the Christmas lights at the Toledo Zoo, visiting Santa at Marathon, picking out and decorating their live Christmas tree, celebrating with an Advent calendar and Advent wreath, going to Christmas Eve Mass, and spending time with family – often involving a delicious, home- cooked meal.

Celebrating the Birth of Jesus

“One of my favorite traditions at my parents’ house is that my dad will set up the Nativity scene. He’ll try to really make the wise men coming from the east,” Andy said, laughing. “The baby Jesus isn’t in the scene until Christmas Eve. But on that night, we bless the tree with holy water, and the youngest child who can carry Jesus gets to put Him in the scene.” In an effort to keep the focus on Christ and family, Santa visits the Kummerer house, but only leaves gifts in the family stockings. Santa follows up at the grandparents’ houses with more gifts. “I love going to mass Christmas Eve,” Andy said. “It just sets the tone for the whole weekend of family time. It’s just fun – and even more with the kids, the excitement.

The Hendel Family

Ashley and Peter Hendel celebrate a holiday near this time of year that involves family, food, decorations and gift-giving. But the holiday their family celebrates, Hanukkah, is far from a Jewish version of Christmas. It is an eight-day observation that commemorates the miracle of one day’s ration of lamp oil lasting for eight days during the rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C. “I think people just assume it’s Christmas time so everyone around here celebrates Christmas,” says Ashley Hendel.

Holidays and Jewish History

“Some people aren’t quite sure what Hanukkah is and why it’s a celebration.” It is not the most important religious holiday for Jews– that is reserved for the Jewish New Year observation of Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement on Yom Kippur. But thanks to its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah is often mistakenly linked with the Christian observance. As one of a handful of Jewish families in Findlay, the Hendels have raised their children to be proud of their history. Ashley would often give talks in the Liberty Benton school system about Hanukkah and other observances. “By the time I left, all the kids would be singing Hanukkah songs,” she says. “My children never felt like outcasts. They are very proud of their heritage.”

Rituals Observed

Nathan, 16, is now a sophomore at LB and Lexi, a 13 year old seventh grader, recently observed her bat mitzvah – a coming of age ritual – at Congregation B’Nai Israel in Sylvania. While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are more solemn observations, Hanukkah is a time for merriment, games and gifts to commemorate the eight day miracle. Each night the family lights a candle on their menorah, a special candle holder, and says blessings and opens gifts. The children good-naturedly jockey for turns in lighting the candles. The gifts can range from large to small, and there is a certain amount of box-shaking and guessing before opening. As her children got older, Hendel incorporated some holiday decorations into the family celebration. One might see a Star of David ornament displayed, or some dreidels (small tops for playing a traditional Hanukkah game) and snowmen. Any Christmas cards she gets are hung up alongside Happy Hanukkah cards. Christmas isn’t necessarily forbidden in the Hendel house – after all, many family friends observe it. It just isn’t something they celebrate themselves. On December 25, when much of Findlay will be opening presents, the Hendels will indulge in their own Christmas ritual – going to the movies.