Over the past week, my life has been so overtaken by the Festival of Lights that I’ve been looking forward to Christmas, just so I can kick back and do nothing!
Our schedule was packed this week: three events at our temple, family over for dinner on Saturday and dinner with friends on Monday night. Plus, "Chanukah Lady" visits to Sophie’s pre-K and Ellie’s second grade to teach about the holiday and pass out dreidels and gelt. Oh, and did I mention that it was a regular week of work and school for everyone, and that I had to take the kids to two different doctor’s appointments?
But enough kvetching. All that candle-lighting and latke-eating was really a lot of fun, and the girls not only loved the presents (I’m a bit worried about the adjustment tonight, the first night they won’t be receiving gifts!) but also the festivities: each night they vied to be the one setting up the candles in the menorah and helping to light them, and by the eighth night their rendition of the blessings was perfect.
And, while this might change as Christmas looms closer and the memory of Chanukah fades, I have heard virtually nothing from the kids about Christmas trees or Santa Claus: no whining about not celebrating the holiday of holidays.
I know that many intermarried (and even some in-married) families do celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas, and I certainly don’t want to pass judgment on them. A secular Christmas celebration is not going to transform your children into crucifix-wearing Santa’s elves. And it’s certainly better to participate in Christmas festivities than to insult non-Jewish extended family or leave the non-Jewish parent feeling s/he has been asked to give up a critical aspect of his/her identity.
I do feel lucky, however, that, with my husband devoid of all Christmas nostalgia, we’re able to stick to the simplicity of one December holiday (especially since that holiday lasts eight days). While we used to visit his family for Christmas, for the past two years we’ve been too exhausted too travel at that time of year and have stuck to the New York Jewish tradition of Chinese food.
My reluctance to do Christmas no doubt stems in part from the fact that I myself celebrated it for many years as a child, because my then-stepfather was not Jewish and was very devoted to the holiday. (He’s still not Jewish, but he’s no longer my stepfather.) While I have many fond memories from those celebrations, they are also mixed up with my ambivalence about my stepfather, as well as my sense, as a child, that I wasn’t “really” Jewish and that I didn’t fully belong in any family or community.
Anyway, Happy End Of Chanukah to all (perhaps we should have some sort of Havdalah-like ritual?)! And good luck getting the wax clumps out of your menorah (although if you’re like me, you’ll put off this pleasurable task until the first night of Chanukah 2011/5772, which thankfully does not start until sundown on Dec. 20.)
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