For families of Jewish faith, December often presents a unique dilemma, particularly when it comes to helping my Jewish children in overcoming their Christmas envy. The festive season, with its Christmas-laden media, sparkly decorations, and holiday gatherings, can leave Jewish youngsters grappling for a sense of belonging. In our household, our Ashkenazi Jewish heritage takes center stage, as we strive to inculcate an intrinsic understanding and respect for our cultural legacy in our daughters. From celebrating Jewish holidays to enlightening discussions about the Holocaust, and even proudly donning symbols like the Star of David necklace, we embed our faith in our daily lives. Yet, the enchanting spell of Christmas never fails to captivate my daughters’ curiosity and imagination.
One of my daughters yearns for a Christmas tree, admiring ornaments at Target and longing for cozy pajamas with Santa Claus on them. The other daughter feels left out when her classmates discuss the Elf on the Shelf and its daily tricks. I empathize with their desire for something they perceive as enchanting but doesn’t align with our traditions.
To ensure our children don’t feel left out during this time of year, we wholeheartedly celebrate Hanukkah. Although Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, it provides an opportunity for wintertime festivities. We go all out during the eight days of Hanukkah, participating in traditional rituals. We light the menorah, cook delicious latkes, indulge in jelly donuts, play dreidel games, decorate our home with lights, exchange gifts each night, and engage in volunteer work. A “Happy Hanukkah” sign graces our door, signaling our immersion in the Festival of Lights. We do all this because we find joy in it, and we want our children to experience that joy too.
Has it succeeded in diverting their attention from Christmas? I’m not entirely sure. While they willingly participate in Hanukkah traditions, it’s challenging to escape the pervasive presence of Christmas in our culture. Nevertheless, during these uncertain times, I’m particularly sensitive to the idea of forgoing the traditions and customs we hold dear. In a year where everything has been disrupted, it’s essential to find solace and reassurance in the continuity of our practices that have endured for centuries.
Above all, we want our children to understand that traditions have the power to unite us as a people, sustain us, and ensure our legacy for generations to come. This concept can be difficult for teenagers and pre-teens who desire to fit in and be like their non-Jewish peers. It saddens me, as it saddens them, that they sometimes feel different.
Living in a world that often encourages assimilation and conformity, we hold onto hope that our children will come to embrace the meaningful and beautiful customs of Jewish holidays without constant comparison to those of their non-Jewish friends. Amidst the mixed emotions that come with this challenge, I’ve noticed something remarkable. Traditions, regardless of origin, allow us to discuss and celebrate our place in the world, our contributions, and the significance of holidays.
My children eagerly sent me their Hanukkah wish lists at the start of December. They were genuinely excited, and it warmed my heart. They dress up and get their nails done for our Hanukkah dinners, and despite its lighthearted nature, they find joy in the Mensch on the Bench tradition. So do my husband and I. However, most importantly, we engage in meaningful conversations about holidays, family, ancestors, and the rituals that shape our lives.
Year after year, these are the conversations that truly matter to me. Through them, we strengthen our bond as a family and reinforce the importance of our heritage and the values we hold dear.
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