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Circle of family fuels Brown's love for the holidays

Hanukkah traditions continue even far from home for Illinois native
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Whether it's traveling back home for the holidays or rocking a Cubs T-shirt during an exhibition, Jason Brown always takes the opportunity to reconnect with his Chicago roots. -Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

While growing up in Highland Park, Illinois, 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown said he and his family had a ritual they observed every year at Hanukkah time (Brown is Jewish). The Browns -- Jason, his parents and his two siblings -- would go to his aunt and uncle's home to eat his aunt's latkes, the traditional potato pancakes Jews eat during the holiday.

But it was more than just the food that drew them there.

"After dinner, we all gather around a big couch and put the presents in the middle, and my grandpa picks the first present and reads the name on the gift. He'll say the name and pass that person the gift. If it's me, I open the gift and run around and hug every single person that gave me the gift. Then I'll go to the center and pick a gift and give it to the person," Brown said. "It goes on like that.

"The couch gets bigger and bigger and bigger every year because there are more Browns," he added. "People are at an age where they're starting to get married. Our family is so proud of our family, and we love each other so much. We're always so excited to share in the joy when another person comes along and becomes a Brown."

At home, Brown and his family light the menorah every night and say the Hanukkah prayers. They also play a game: Each person picks the candle he or she thinks will burn the longest. Each night a candle is added, so it becomes tougher as the eight days go on.

"It's super fun, and we always love lighting the candles," Brown said. "It's always competitive. The Browns are a competitive bunch."

Now living and training in Colorado, Brown does his best to make it home for Hanukkah. His family has gotten more spread out over the years, and if a lot of people are able to get back to Illinois for Thanksgiving, they will have an early Hanukkah celebration.

"When Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlapped a couple of years ago, we loved Thanksgivukkah," he joked. "If I'm not able to go for the gift giving, I'm always ready and waiting on my phone for them to FaceTime me in and join the celebration."

This year, the first night of Hanukkah falls on Dec. 24, and later that week, Brown will join his family at a dude ranch in Arizona and stay through the new year.

The only one in the family who travels internationally on a regular basis, Brown is always keeping his eyes open when he's overseas for things he thinks a family member might like.

"I do think it's really fun to go to different parts of the world and bring back gifts that have some meaning to that culture," he said.

Brown is in good spirits heading into the holidays. After an injury-riddled 2015-16 season, he's shown good form this year, finishing first at the U.S. International Classic and second at Skate America.

"It's been really exciting and challenging," Brown said. "The toughest thing is, you can't exactly prepare for an injury and can't exactly prepare how you're going to get over it, especially when it's your first big one.

"There are so many what if's and oh no's," he added. "The biggest thing is to always focus on the next thing. 'What is the next thing in the healing process?' Staying really focused on being diligent on whatever is in my control to get myself healthy again."

While the holidays provide a nice break from his rigorous training regimen, Brown remains completely focused on the task at hand.

"I'm gearing up for the U.S. shampionships, so I'm in the best position and the best shape that I can be leading into the second half of the season," Brown said. "Every year brings new challenges, new successes, great moments and tough moments. What I've learned coming back from an injury is you've really got to focus on moving forward.

"I love to perform, I love to be in front of a crowd, and I love to pour my heart into my performances," he added. "I appreciate all the love from the fans. I'm excited to go to Kansas City."