The holidays are filled with joy for Samantha Harris, whose family includes hubby Michael Hess, and daughters Josselyn, 5, and Hillary, 23 months.
Not only does the Jewish family celebrate Hanukkah, but they also get involved in the Santa side of things thanks to her husband’s family tradition of celebrating both holidays.
“We’re a family that celebrates ‘Hanumas,’ so it’s a nice combination of Hanukkah and Christmas,” the Stars Earn Stripes host, 39, tells me during the Alli Let’s Fight Holiday Fat event in NYC. “It’s a great blend – my kids are very lucky that they get to get a present each night of Hanukkah, and lots of presents come Christmas morning.”
She continues, “It’s a lot of fun because when I was growing up, I didn’t get to decorate. Outside of the menorah, we didn’t get to decorate for Christmas, so blending my family traditions with my husband's, we now have stockings, lights up the railing of the stairway, and garlands around. It’s a blast!”
Hm, how does that work, celebrating both?
“My side of the family, plus my husband and I, give presents for Hanukkah, and my husband’s side of the family does the Christmas presents, and then we usually add a couple more from us as well that Santa brings, of course,” she explains. “We do one present a night for Hanukkah, and if there are any left over on that remaining night, then they get to open the remaining presents. Sometimes there’s a nice hall come the eighth night.”
For Christmas, it’s all about his side of the family.
“They open all their presents, and his dad, who lives in the area, comes over, and we celebrate,” she says. “This year, my mom will actually be in town with my stepdad, so later in the afternoon, they’ll come over too, so it will be a lot of fun over at our house for Christmas day.”
Of course, celebrating Christmas has been a relatively new experience for Samantha.
“It’s a lot of fun to bring in that tradition,” she says. “Right now, if you look at our fireplace mantle, it’s decorated with Christmas stockings, garlands, and fun little presents and decorations, and then under it was a ton of presents wrapped with Hanukkah dreidels. [laughs] It’s an interesting juxtaposition, definitely.”
The former Dancing With The Stars host is eager to embrace the traditions of the red-and-green.
“I love that, being that they are so young, there is still this wonderful belief in Santa landing on the rooftop, which is something I did not have, because he didn’t come to my house when I was growing up as a Jewish kid.”
She’s a quick learner when it comes to creating magical moments for her daughters.
“It’s fun to have Jossy go open her window in her room with my husband, and then I go outside in the lower level, and make jingle bell sounds. She thinks the reindeer are coming, so she has to quickly get into bed. It’s also a great trick to get her to go to sleep early on Christmas Eve!”
She adds, “Last year when the reindeer came, Hillary was asleep, but this year both Hillary and Jossy both will be able to experience the reindeer’s jingly bells.”
Josselyn picks out cookies and helps pour the glass of milk to leave for Santa’s visit.
For her husband, Santa’s visit brings back fond memories.
“He’s so much fun all year round, but during the holidays, he gets extra-excited to have the Christmas morning presents and celebration, because that’s what he grew up with, and having the excitement of the girls come down. “
Hm, how did they celebrate Hanukkah this year?
“Now that my daughter is 5, she knows the Hanukkah prayer over the candles, and I love that she sings it with me. She’s starting to learn harmony, because my family growing up always sang in two- or three-part harmony just for kicks because that’s what the family did. [laughs] That’s really nice. And the baby, who’s going to be 2 next month, is starting to learn a few of the words as well, so she’ll try to chime in, which is very special and warms my heart a lot.”
As for the gifts?
“For Hanukkah, they already got some of their favorite gifts. My older daughter, Jossy, is very into the Barbie Princess and the Pop Star DVD, and the Barbie itself that sings and has a microphone, the guitar so she can play along. She’s loving life right now with that. Hillary’s still into unwrapping boxes, playing with wrapping paper, and stealing the guitar from her older sister.”
Ultimately, her favorite season is now.
“It’s such a special time to be able to see the holidays through their eyes as they’re discovering the wonders of presents and giving.”
Check out Alli’s Let’s Fight Holiday Fat, which is a free online dieting guide.
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