As I walked into a store the other day, I saw that they already had Christmas decorations up. Since school had just started and we hadn’t even gotten through the High Holy days, this was a little bit of a shocker. Then a little bit of panic ran through me. Panic of the “holiday” season. A hundred thoughts ran through my mind. Where am I going to get enough Chanukah candles for my family? Where am I going to get enough Chanukah gelt for my family of seven (my in-laws always participate)? How many school events are going to interfere with Chanukah?
OH! The school! My school district has a total of three Jewish students; all three are my children. They teach Christmas around the world. They try as hard as they can to teach about Kwanzaa and Chanukah. So, every year since RJ was in kindergarten, I go into the school for any teacher that asks (especially the teachers that have my children) and try to explain what Chanukah is: what the story is, how we celebrate, and what a chanukiah is. Of course, I have to treat my children’s classes to latkes, donuts, gelt, and a game of dreidel.
Like many of us in the community, I have a blended family. I was raised in a Conservative Jewish household, and my husband was raised in a Christian household. I was raised in a household where I was taught that you buy someone a present because you saw something that reminded you of them, not because the calendar tells you to. However, my husband was raised with presents being exchanged during the Christmas season. Even after twenty-some years of being with my husband and being so welcomed by his parents, Christmas is still foreign to me. So the thought rises of how many Chanukah presents do I get my children? Not really a true tradition of the holiday, but an American tradition since it falls so close to Christmas. A lot of stress for a fun time of year.
As I drove home, I remembered when RJ was little. I had gotten him a remote control car for Chanukah. He was so excited to get eight presents, one for each night. Little did he know that Ron and I had already agreed that we would do one Chanukah present since he was going to get a lot of other presents from his grandparents. Not wanting to disappoint him, I took apart the car and gave him a different part each night, so on the final night he could enjoy his present. That memory made me remember how joyous and fun the holiday is.
Since we do not take ourselves very seriously, we have had many jokes through the years about celebrating both holidays. There was a joke in my town for a few years that if you want to see a lot of Christmas lights go to the Jews’ house. (We live in a small town – everyone knows everyone and where they live.) We used to have a giant blow-up dreidel among the Christmas lights. My kids had a small blue fake Christmas tree that they would decorate with silver ornaments. They, of course, called it their Chanukah bush, so Hanukkah Harry would know where to leave their gifts.
Once I got home, I looked at the calendar and what a wonderful surprise! For the first time in many years, the entire holiday of Chanukah falls during “winter break.” No homework, no Christmas concerts at the school they need to participate in, no practices. NO WORRIES. So I look forward to lighting our candles, playing dreidel, and celebrating at our Temple Chanukah party. But most of all I look forward to celebrating the time with my family.