Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Christmakkah! by Jamie

As a Jew, I’ve always embraced the traditions of Judaism, but not necessarily its religious aspects. For instance, I don’t go to temple, was never Bat Mizvahed, and must admit that most of my Yom Kippur fasts have been solely weight loss-driven. However, I do know (and often use) a few dozen Yiddish words, wish just as many friends a “sweet” New Year around Rosh Hashanah as I do on January 1st, and truly “kvelled” over giving my daughter a Hebrew name at a baby-naming ceremony. I may not “practice” my religion all the time, but I certainly appreciate it—the holidays, stories, and most of all, the familial bonds (and, well, the food, too!). And as the mom of a toddler, I really look forward to starting—and continuing—traditions with my daughter for all of the Jewish holidays.

That said, hooray for Hanukkah! This is the first year that Jayda, at 2-1/2, can really join in—and begin to understand—our holiday celebrations. I have a special Crayola crayon-shaped menorah to light with her, eight presents to give to her on each of the eight nights, and a family Hanukkah dinner planned, with home-made latkes headlining the meal. I’m looking forward to it all. But I’m not looking forward to competing with Christmas.

I’m no Scrooge, and I certainly understand the appeal of Christmas; I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to that. My mother’s mother was Irish-Protestant, until she gave up her religion for my Jewish grandfather. However, she never stopped celebrating Christmas, and my own mother carried that tradition into our home. When I was growing up, we celebrated Hanukkah, but we also had a Christmas tree, left cookies for Santa on a table near the chimney, and woke up on Christmas morning to a pile of gifts. It made sense because it was a part of my mother’s upbringing, but for me, as a single Jewish mother, it doesn’t make sense anymore. There’s no reason for me to have a Christmas tree in my home, or even teach my child to believe in Santa Claus. But I fear it’s going to take a heck of a lot of work to get Jayda to understand that Hanukkah is “just as much fun” as Christmas.

A few weeks ago, Jayda pointed to a picture of Santa Claus and asked me, “Who’s that?” Moments later, she gestured to a picture of a Christmas tree and said, “What a pretty tree!” I explained to her as best I could who Santa Claus is, and why that tree was covered with decorations, and she soon lost interest. But I know that was just the beginning.

Let’s face it: We live in a Christmas-focused world. Every street in our neighborhood is filled with Christmas lights, huge fusses are made over Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, and our stores are swarming with Christmas-themed decorations, gifts, toys, and candy. True, there are Hanukkah books that I can read to Jayda, and occasionally I’m able to find a TV special airing which focuses on our holiday. This past week, I was especially thrilled to discover that at Jayda’s daycare, they had a Hanukkah unit: All week long, Jayda’s class read stories about the holiday, made crafts, and even enjoyed Hanukkah treats. But it still doesn’t compare to the Christmas craziness that will be saturating the same daycare—and everywhere else—in upcoming weeks.

Because my childhood included Christmas celebrations and I “had the best of both worlds,” I never really noticed the lack of Hanukkah hoopla around us, but I’m pretty certain my own child will. Perhaps I’m worrying needlessly, but I hate to think Jayda will feel like she’s missing out on something just because we’re Jewish. I know the best I can do is embrace our Jewish traditions, as I do, and pass my enthusiasm for them along to Jayda. Hopefully then she’ll appreciate who we are—and what our holiday means. This Hanukkah, I know Jayda will be doing plenty of celebrating, enjoying her family, and receiving lots of great gifts, and that’s a tradition no one should find reason to complain about.

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