A fourth-year medical student reflects on the non-traditional traditions that came from growing up in a 2-physician, 2-religion household.




In this series, Holiday Traditions, we asked clinicians to share their favorite holiday traditions from both past and present. Here’s how they answered.

Growing up in a 2-physician, 2-religion household, I never thought my family’s holiday traditions felt traditional. We celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah; however, we perhaps did neither to its full extent.

Christmas never had any religious connotation for us. My family celebrated lights, cookies, and being together. Hanukkah had a similar feeling to Christmas. Asked in the line at Blockbuster whether I wanted to go to extra school on the weekend, I never fully immersed myself into Judaism. My mom is not Jewish, and I never had a Bat Mitzvah. This has led me to joke that I am not Jewish, but Jew-ish. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed latkes, playing with dreidels, and lighting the menorah most years when my dad was home to help with the prayers I never learned.

Eventually, we abandoned most “traditional” traditions. Now we exchange a few practical gifts, mostly settling on not wanting anything. My vegetarian—and now vegan—diet led our family to scrap most traditional foods, embracing their vegan versions. My mom still rallies to string lights and decorate the house for Christmas. As my dad is now in a position that gives him holidays off, our favorite new tradition over the past several years has been taking that time to complete a puzzle on our kitchen table.

Now that I find myself going into medicine as well, especially a surgical specialty like OBGYN, I know holidays will often be spent working. It makes me happy to think that my parents were changing someone’s life for years to come, even if on the odd holiday they could not be at home. It also makes me happy to think that I will be doing the same.

Although it was sometimes hard as a child to have a parent absent for chunks of the holiday season, being with my own patients makes me appreciate the gift of being able to practice medicine—that is my favorite family tradition.


One family

Two religions

Growing up with

Both traditions

Sparkling lights and

Dancing flames

Menorah, dreidel

Chocolate games

Frosting cookies

Oven glows

Decorating the tree

Waiting for the snow

Hanukkah prayers

With our Jewish neighbors

Christmas with friends

Save the wrapping paper

Walking home along

A moonlit path

Cold air freezes cheeks

Icicles sparkle just like glass

Smoke billows from

The chimney tops

Roasted air fills nostrils

Never stop

As the years have come and gone

Physician parents hard at work

Changing lives, the Bovie on

Prayers alone; sometimes it hurt

Holidays now have

No special meaning

Magical snow

Scrape it off in the morning

A new life for someone else

This tradition of medicine well worth it

Following that tradition, myself

Holidays to come, I know I’ll work them

My memories I’ll save

And during a holiday make new ones

For my patients who are so brave

Menorah away but surgical mask on

Now Christmas and Hanukkah

Come and go with practical presents

We knew they weren’t from Santa

The gift was, and still is, who was present

Mx Mendelow is a fourth-year medical student at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. They received their Bachelor of Arts in Romance Languages and Literature and International Studies from the University of Michigan and practiced as a licensed aesthetician before medical school. They hope to pursue Ob/Gyn and incorporate their love of psychiatry into their practice.

Do you have a favorite tradition or activity that you enjoy with your loved ones during the holidays? If so, write to us at for a chance to be featured in our Holiday Traditions series.

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