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Celebrating all season
Local families bridge gap between Hanukkah and Christmas

Michael Bugg doesn't normally lead a double life. He doesn't have a split personality or anything.

But during the holiday season, he embodies a sort of two-timing persona. Though the Stone Mountain resident was raised a Christian, and his parents still celebrate Christmas, Bugg himself converted to Judaism four years ago. Meaning, he now celebrates Hanukkah, which begins Wednesday, instead of Christmas.

Some years, he gets lucky and Christmas falls in the middle of Hanukkah. But there are years, like this one, when the festival of lights is a week or two away from the Christian holiday. In that case, Bugg and his family have to find a holy middle ground.

"I give them Hanukkah gifts, and they give me Christmas gifts," he said. "It usually works out. Since I grew up with Christmas, it still holds nostalgic memories for me. And I like that I can still do something with my family."

In converting to Judaism, Bugg found a solid support system in his family, but noted that he is more the exception than the rule. For most split-holiday families, it's an either-or time of year. When one parent is Jewish and the other not, it's generally followed that the family makes a decision to go with one holiday or the other, said Jodie Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Chabad Enrichment Center in Norcross.

At Bugg's parents house, there is a Christmas tree with wrapped gifts and ornaments on wreaths. But at his place, Bugg has no such things. He decorates with a hanukia, the nine-branch Menorah lit each night during Hanukkah. Still, he admits, even if he did celebrate Christmas, there wouldn't be much in the way of trimmings.

"I'm not huge on the decorating that way," he said. "I more let the synagogue do all the work. I love going to Hanukkah parties, though. The parties are also great for people unlike me, who don't have family they can celebrate with."

That's not to say Bugg, a Messianic Jew, forgoes Christmas altogether. Following the principals of his religion, he believes Jesus came to Earth as the Messiah, but Bugg still follows the Torah. That means he recognizes Christ's birthday, but does so in the fall, which according to some historians, is a more accurate depiction of the event. During the autumn months, he celebrates Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Even then, though, he doesn't decorate.

"It's a lot of prayers, and a lot of food," he said. "That seems to be our pattern for holidays. We celebrate like this: Someone tried to kill our people, we overcame them, and now let's eat."

SideBar: Hannukah and Christmas

December is filled with excitement, what with the two big holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas held within the span of four weeks. Some years, the two holidays overlap, but this year, Hanukkah begins a whole 20 days before Christmas. How else are the two holidays different? Read on.

Dates:

Christmas: Always on Dec. 25

Hanukkah: Varies, depending on Jewish calendar. This year, it's celebrated Dec. 5-12.

Length:

Christmas: One day of gifts

Hanukkah: Eight nights of gifts

Indoor decor:

Christmas: Christmas tree

Hanukkah: Menorah

Outdoor decor:

Christmas: Strings of bright red, green and gold lights

Hanukkah: Strings of bright blue and silver lights

Sweets:

Christmas: Candy canes

Hanukkah: Chocolate gelt

Food:

Christmas: Feast of turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie and wine or champagne

Hanukkah: Feast of goodies fried in oil, like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (fruit-filled doughnuts), and Kosher wine

Favorite tunes:

Christmas: "Silent Night," "Deck the Halls," and "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"

Hanukkah: "Ma'oz Tzur," "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel," and Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song"

Representatives:

Christmas: Baby Jesus, Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Hanukkah: Hannah, a mother of seven sons and a martyr, as recorded in Second Book of Maccabees 7:1-41; and the Hanukkah armadillo, if you believe Ross Geller from "Friends"

Spellings:

Christmas: Christmas, but sometimes shortened by lazy people to X-mas

Hanukkah: Spelled several ways, including Hanukkah, Hannukah and Chanukah