Year after year, it doesn't get any easier to parent Jewish children in December. Christmas overwhelms our kids, especially those of them in public schools, particularly in the American South. During the month of December — and often much earlier — my two daughters, like all of our kids, are barraged daily with Christmas movie commercials, Christmas songs on the radio (all of which we love!), heavy Christmas decorations around the neighborhood, Christmas parties among classmates (admittedly less so this year, but still virtual gift exchanges and so on), and many more accoutrements of this holiday that is spectacular and magical.
But is not ours to celebrate.
My daughters, ages 13 and 10, are being raised in an Ashkenazi Jewish family, though not a particularly religious one. Although we don't necessarily go to temple every Saturday, my kids are keenly aware of who we are and where we take root. We celebrate Jewish holidays, we read extensively about the Holocaust (Night was my older child's 8th grade reading material this fall), and we wear our Star of David necklaces frequently and proudly. We have a mezuzah on our door post. My kids attend Jewish day camps in the summer. My daughter had a small pandemic-friendly bat-mitzvah a few months ago. All of that is to say that our kids have a thorough understanding of their culture and its history. And yet, and yet, and yet.
The magic of Christmas beckons them, calls to them with its sweetness, its caramel peppermint mochas at all the coffee shops. It draws them in with gingerbread houses, and reindeers on people's driveways, and Mariah Carey on every station, and ornaments at Target, and garlands in their classrooms, and school Christmas parties, disguised as "holiday" parties, and the tree… oh, that tree…
Naturally, to prevent our children from feeling as if they're missing out on something as enchanting as Christmas, we do the only thing Jews can do at this time of year — we go crazy on Hanukkah! We do it not because Hanukkah is necessarily a major Jewish holiday, it isn't. But because it simply falls around a similar time frame and offers an opportunity to also give gifts and celebrate in the wintertime.
For eight days of Hanukkah, we partake in the traditional celebrations — lighting the menorah, cooking latkes, eating jelly donuts, spinning dreidels — as well as giving gifts for every night and doing volunteer work at least two of the evenings. We put up lights, blue and white, of course. We hang a "Happy Hanukkah" sign on our door. We invite family over. We write cards to distant cousins. We immerse into the Festival of Lights because it's beautiful and because we love it, yes, but also because we so desperately want our kids to love it too.
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