Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The December Non-Dilemma

Originally posted here.

Well, folks, it's that time of year again.

No, silly, not *that* time of year. You know, it's the time for "we celebrate Hanukkah and I'm worried my kid might be traumatized that it's not as good as Christmas!" articles to start popping up all over the landscape. And believe me, there was a time when I worried over exactly the same thing.

There's a compulsive need to make certain your child isn't missing out on anything, and let's face it, it doesn't get any bigger than Christmas. From lights on houses, to friendly customer service people, and of course TV galore, Christmas is everywhere, and your child could easily feel left out.

Hanukkah commemorates a military victory, and by definition, is a more minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. There are lots of amazing traditions to enjoy as a family, from menorah lighting to dreidel spinning and latke eating. And yes, in our family, there is a lot of gift receiving too. It's eight days I look forward to celebrating all year, but we don't celebrate it trying to out-do or even match the spirit of Christmas.

We enjoy celebrating Hanukkah because we enjoy all of what being Jewish means. As a family, Marc and I have tried to imbue observing Judaism with a sense of joy and purpose. We celebrate Shabbat every week, but more than that we talk about Jewish things all the time. We read books and sing songs and keep a Kosher(ish) home. We look forward to holidays year-round, planning costumes for Purim, meals for Passover and sending cards for Rosh Hashanah with that the same enthusiasm we have for lighting the chanukiah. We seek out Jewish experiences to give our children, from preschool and summer camp to films and museums. We talk about the Holocaust, and we talk about Israel. Importantly, we talk about how fun it is to celebrate alongside our friends and family, especially those with beliefs and traditions different from our own.

If you feel your kids are missing out on Christmas, maybe they're really missing out on religion. Religion isn't just about being anti-commercial and not having any fun. Maybe that worked for our Puritan forebears here in New England, but it's not especially Jewish, and it's definitely not the way to get your kids turned on. A big part of Judaism is finding joy and celebration in life. Jews invented dreidels, after all--we're not against giving kids toys! As parents, we don't want to spoil our kids all year, but we want to buy them things sometimes. So, they get Hanukkah presents. Better that they should hear "you're so lucky you get eight nights of presents" than think they're unlucky not to get one visit from Santa.

Hannah is nearly eight years old, and last night, completely on her own, she sat down to write and color the above picture. The text reads (with my corrections), "I love Hanukkah! It gives me hope and joy. Lighting the chanukiah and saying the blessings. Eating latkes with apple sauce and sour cream. Playing dreidel, "shin" put some in. Eating jelly donuts with strawberry jelly. It's all fun."

Hanukkah is one small part of Judaism and hoping it can eclipse Christmas is setting one's self up for failure. But if you allow Judaism to have a bigger role in your life all the time, the Christmas season can seem to pale in comparison.

(And yes, that's a plate of vegetables in that Hanukkah picture. Clearly, we're doing a lot of things right!)

Marc Stober contributed to this post.

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