Eight Days

Most kids count down the days to Christmas from December 26 until December 25 of the next year.  It’s a day of pure joy.  Pure excitement.  Anticipation.  Smiles and pajamas and giggles and family and early mornings and messes of wrapping paper and ribbons.

Or so I hear.

Because I have never celebrated Christmas.  Nope, no stockings hanging over my fireplace.  No cookies left for Santa.  No Christmas tree with beautiful colorful lights, memorable ornaments and a perfect star on top.  No early morning wakings to see what Santa brought for me.  Some of you may feel sad for me that I never got to experience the dazzle of this popular holiday.  I actually felt sad myself when I was much younger.  I felt a little left out.  A little on the outside. But not REALLY.  Just a little bit.

Because I had Chanukah.  Eight days of dazzle.  Eight days of waking up in the morning wondering what my gift that night would be.  Eight days of walking into the living room with presents stacked high on the table.  Eight days of lighting the candles on the menorah and singing a song I had grown to love (although never really knew what the Hebrew words meant).  I loved Chanukah.  As much as all of my friends loved Christmas.  And I still love Chanukah but more from a different perspective.  The perspective of watching my kids’ eyes light up when they see all of their presents stacked high on OUR living room floor.  Last year I watched Hannah sit indian style in front of the stack of presents willing herself to see THROUGH the wrapping paper. Looking long and hard at the shapes and sizes of each gift trying to guess what they all were.

I try to make Chanukah look and feel as special as Christmas.  Because it’s hard.  To drive down our street and see the majority of the houses lit up with Christmas lights and trees.  Jolly blow up Santas in the yards.  Reindeer and sleighs climbing over the roofs.  And not have any of that on our house.  Hannah is at the age of asking why we can’t have all of that on our house.  Many of my friends actually ask me the same.  “Why don’t you just do it… for the kids?”  And I know they don’t get it when I tell them it’s because we’re Jewish.  And Jewish people (for the most part) just don’t decorate the house with Christmas decorations.  Because it would be doing it just to Fit In.  And we teach our kids that doing things just to fit in, is not ok.  I ask them if they lived in a mostly Jewish town and THEIR kids were in the minority if they’d light a menorah to fit in… and they all quickly respond, “Well, no.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m super proud of my roots, my heritage, my upbringing but for a little kid, being even slightly different.  Is hard.  Because the Hoopla is all around Christmas where we live.  And where the kids go to school.   Hannah told me yesterday she asked EVERY kid in her class if they celebrate Christmas and all but one said yes.  That was hard for her.  And as a mom, I want to make things easy for her.  I want things to make sense to her.  I want her to feel proud of who she is.  Proud of her religion.  Her upbringing.  So I make Chanukah a really big deal.  With games and chocolate and extra ribbons and fun pink Chanukah drinks, and big dinner parties.  And this year, we’re inviting her two best friends who are Christian to celebrate one night of Chanukah with her.  So she can feel proud.  And special.  And they can understand what she does for HER holiday.  All of her friends always tell her about the cookies they leave out for Santa and the traditions they have on Christmas Eve.  Now her friends will get a taste of OUR traditions.  Feel the warmth in our house during one of Hannah’s favorite times of year.

And maybe Hannah will stop asking me how we can get on that “list” that Santa gets each year telling him whose house he should go to with his sac of gifts.  Because I’m running out of ways to avoid the topic.

What’s it like for you?  Do you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or something else?  What’s the big kid’s gift in your house this year?





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16 responses to “Eight Days

  1. I live in a part of town with about equal numbers of houses with trees and menorahs. And a good number of others too. I was walking into a store the other day, flanked by gaudy pink and purple trees, accosted by glittering reglious iconography. It made me feel a little sick. Not because I am deeply religious, but because these holidays are about the traditions, the stories we tell, the love in our homes – more then the glitz and glammer. Good for you for sharing your traditions. When I was about 8, I was invited to la Posada at a friend’s house. And though it’s part of the Christmas celebrations, it certainly wasn’t part of what I had seen before.

    But you bet next weekend we’ll have our twinkle lights up. Because that is one of my favorite things.

    Oh, and I always thought eight days sounded like a better deal. I envied my Jewish friends.

  2. I was raised Catholic and my husband was raised Jewish. Our boys weren’t baptized and didn’t have a bris.

    This year, we’ll be celebrating Hanukkah with Oma when she comes to visit next week. And we’ll celebrate Christmas with my parents when they visit later in the month. We’re still working on our approach, but, for now, we’re trying to encourage family traditions that don’t connect to the religious aspects of the holidays since we don’t believe in them (e.g. making latkes and baking cookies). We’ll see how it goes.

    And no gifts from us to the boys this year. Our boys are the only grandchildren on both sides so they get way more than they need already. 🙂

  3. You described Chanukah so beautifully! What a great celebrating. As a child, especially, it must be so exciting… 8 days of presents! And it’s a very beautiful celebration.
    We celebrate Christmas, and it’s totally more joyful since having children. Just seeing their excited little faces on Christmas morning brings me great joy. 🙂

  4. What a great way to celebrate and include your daughters friends. I imagine they will have a blast and leave with a better understanding of what your family. And that, is awesome.

  5. Love it! Sounds like you’re making it really special for the kids and I’m sure Hannah will be really proud to share the celebration with her friends, and they will learn and appreciate your traditions.

    My husband is Catholic but I am not any religion. We make Christmas less about religion and more about family and sharing (and presents, too, of course)! I love the holidays just for the atmosphere and the feeling of giving and togetherness.

    Great job, Becca. It sounds like you are creating amazing memories for your children while showing them the importance of your beliefs. 🙂

  6. We are Hindus, but celebrate the spirit of Christmas. Our “Christmas” comes in the form of Diwali which happens in the first week of November. Although my husband and I both grew up in very Hindu homes, both parents set up Christmas trees, ordered fruit cake and exchanged presents.
    It sounds as if you are creating the spirit of the holidays for your own children. Ultimately, I think it is about the connections we make with one another.

  7. We celebrate Christmas. This year, we’ll celebrate one night of Chanukah with the family of one of our Jewish friends. We’re also participating in a night of Kwanzaa at our community center. I am so thankful to live in a community that embraces diversity. Commercialism is what it is, but we can choose to really dig in and revel in the traditions.

  8. We celebrate Christmas but in a pretty secular way (more candy canes than Church).

    Without question, my son’s favorite memory from last winter was the Chanukah party he attended at a friend’s house: he couldn’t believe his friend got to light a candle BY HIMSELF. The dreidel he brought home that night is still among his most prized toys.

  9. This is a wonderful post. And it touches upon something we’ve been talking about in our house: the fact that Christmas is somehow both religious and secular. There’s secular Christmas (which those of us who celebrate share with most of society) and religious Christmas (which, as a Christian family, we share with only a small percentage of people we know). I wonder if Chanukah, not being in the mainstream in our area, has retained its religious roots more firmly than Christmas has? A lot of the Christmas hoopla isn’t even really about Christmas, you know? It’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but it does present a skewed image of the holiday, I think.

    I love your idea of inviting some of your daughter’s friends to experience your celebration with you. It will give her something to share and give her friends a new perspective, too.

  10. Becca, I applaud you for not succumbing to the overwhelming pressure you must feel. I applaud you for giving Hannah the opportunity to teach someone about her heritage and customs, particularly one as beautiful as the story of Chanukah.

    But more than that, I wish for you eight beautiful nights with your family, celebrating, sharing, creating memories that will last a lifetime!

  11. Nicki

    Becca, I have an upcoming piece in Sarah Stanley’s 25 Days of Cheer (http://sarahstanleyinspired.com/2010/11/28/25-days-of-cheer/) that might interest you. The days start tomorrow and I believe I am schedule for 12/5.

    The reason you find everyone thinking you should just celebrate Christmas is because they are looking at the secular holiday of Christmas, not the religious holy day. There is such a huge difference but it is seldom pointed out in our culture.

    Have a wonderful Chanukah.

  12. My best friend growing up was Jewish, and some of my best memories growing up are sharing in Chanukah and Passover celebrations with her family. I know Hannah’s friends will feel the same, and she is so very lucky to be able to share something so wonderful with them!

  13. I love that you included your daughter’s friends so she could proudly show off her heritage and traditions to them, and suddenly what could be exclusionary (religious celebrations of people of particular faiths) became something that can be enjoyed by the whole community. This was how I was brought up as we had many different religions in Malaysia – to invite our homes to people of other beliefs on our auspicious days – and I miss that.

    So glad to find that here in certain pockets of this great big nation. You’ve inspired me to do the same with my family. During Chinese New Year and Deepavali, I would love to invite my friends to celebrate alongside me. If only you were closer, you’ll be on the list for sure! 🙂

  14. We get potato pancakes and chopped chicken liver. They get gingerbread cookies and eggnog. We get cool plagues they get cute bunnies and chocolates.

    But growing up 3/4 Jewish, I must confess that we did have a Christmas tree and each year ( I lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood) all my Jewish friends would come over and help decorate the tree. They were the very best decorators. With care and delight, they would place each ornament.

    Now I’m invited to cookie exchanges and people wear holiday sweaters. I feel so out of place.

    I love Thanksgiving. It’s for everyone to share.

    Miss you lots. Hope you are doing well.

    Happy Holidays to you and yours.

  15. Great great post. I so relate–was always the one Jewish kid in my class. Sounds like you outdid yourself for Hannah. You are such an awesome Mom.

  16. Liz

    I think the fact that you make it a big deal for her is all that really matters. Let’s be honest; little kids don’t really care about the reasonings behind the celebrations…they are sucked in by the pomp and circumstance. And how cool that she can invite her friends to teach them about her celebrations and show off her joy and fun.

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