Photo Credit: Courtesy of Philip Grosman

Growing up in North America, Christmastime conjured up many ambivalent feelings among traditional Jews. We lit our menorahs – with pride and joy and latkes – but we couldn’t help being tempted by the bright and commercial winter wonderland that included many decorated pine trees glowing with light. True, it wasn’t our light, in any sense of the word, but it was pretty.

Christmas trees have their roots in pagan winter solstice celebrations. The use of Christmas lights began in Germany in the 17th century in order to light up the ornaments on the tree, and initially were candles. In an ironic paradox, Jews, who have been lighting Chanukah menorahs for millennia, probably inspired non-Jewish children to long for lights during their holiday as well.


Although there is no halacha against lighting up your home with lights for Chanukah – after all, in Israel they’re used for Succoth and Yom HaAtzmaut – most Jews abroad make the lights of the chanukiah the sole focus of Chanukah.

Except Philip Grosman. Grosman, 42, a resident of Meyerland, a suburb of Houston, Texas, lives at 5115 Carew Street, otherwise known as The Hanukkah House, which is decorated for Chanukah in an over-the-top kind of way that outshines the other holiday decorations on his block.


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It began 16 years ago when his eldest daughter, Sophie, was born, and his family lived in another suburb, Sugarland. Grosman thought there was no reason that Jewish houses can’t engage in the same illumination practices as their non-Jewish neighbors and started decorating for Chanukah, with aplomb, using store-bought lights but also making many of the creations himself, using plywood, wire, and whatever else he could find. Since he works in the family scrap business, finding materials is not a problem. Whatever Grosman can’t make himself, he has custom-made. But he doesn’t dole out large amounts of cash. Well, maybe on the light bill.

Over the last 12 years, in his new domicile, Grosman has been adding to his collection of lights, larger-than-life inflatables, and Chanukah-themed decorations. Although he’s starting to feel a bit burned out (no pun intended) and would like to tone down his decorations a bit, Grosman’s kids, Sophie, Mathew, 15, and Ellie, 9, won’t let him. And neither, for that matter, will anyone else.

Grosman estimates that Hanukkah House has about 1,000 visitors a year, Jews and non-Jews who come to see the Chanukah lights, listen to the Chanukah music, and enjoy the Chanukah atmosphere. Although Chanukah often intersects with mid-winter vacation, Grosman, his wife Dana, and their kids generally stay put to honor their commitment to the community, who love the decorations and festive atmosphere.


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Grosman starts decorating the house right after Halloween. His wife insisted he get some help – she doesn’t want him climbing on the roof anymore. The kids help too, and on Thanksgiving, one of the Grosman traditions is to invite the whole family over and turn on the magic, taking down the lights only after the first week in January (depending on when Chanukah actually falls).

Meyerland has a large Jewish population and Grosman’s children go to private Jewish schools. The family is traditional, Grosman having been brought up Conservative, although his father has become closer to Orthodoxy in recent years.

All stripes of Jews come to see The Hanukkah House, from chareidi to unaffiliated. “We talk to the people who come by,” says Grosman, “and get them excited about Chanukah too. It’s inspiring, and kids, who’ve never done so before, also want to start celebrating Chanukah and beg their parents go out and buy decorations.”

Inside the house is more subdued but there are still dreidels on the tables, menorahs in the windows, and latkes on the stove.

“I’m an all or nothing kind of guy,” says Grosman, and his flamboyant decorations certainly bear that out. “It’s kind of spiraled out of control,” he says, but definitely in a good way. “It makes people happy to be Jewish and definitely adds to the holiday spirit. People cry, they’re so moved! And people smile, it’s so uplifting!”

“Chanukah is a festival of lights and everyone wants to celebrate in their own special way,” Grosman concludes. “It’s my favorite time of the year.”


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