It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Sparkling lights, holiday parties, themes of gratitude abound. For us moms, it’s also the race to the end of the year, school performances, wrapping up certain sports seasons…all the things. But still, it’s a time of year that encourages us to be grateful for friends and family, celebrate the good times together, and provide some magic for our children.
I very much believe in the magic of the holiday season and have since I was a young adult living in New York City; the city lights up in December and transforms into a Christmas wonderland. Seeing the Rockefeller tree become illuminated was one of my favorite memories living in New York City, followed by a stroll on Fifth Avenue to admire the beautiful storefront windows. Magic isn’t just for kids, after all!
However, as a Jewish mother raising two young children in a more homogenous community, I am learning about what this season means for my kids, and the challenges that go along with being in the Jewish minority this time of year. As is the case with most things, my children were oblivious to it until recently. However, as they have grown older, they understand and feel this difference – of not sharing in the same traditional magic that many of their peers experience. At first it was just the acknowledgement that we don’t have a tree or an Elf on the Shelf. However, more recently there have been questions about “why am I the only one in my class whose house Santa doesn’t visit” or “why am I different because we celebrate Hannukah?”
Throughout the rest of the year, when we have the holidays that are much more significant to us, these questions never come up; my kids never ask why others don’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year and one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. Nope, it is just this time of year, when Hanukkah is more front and center due to the proximity it shares with Christmas. And only recently have the kids started to hone in on this idea of being different.
So what do we do about this?
How do we make our kids feel a part of the magic, while still honoring our own traditions and not trying to keep up with the environment around us? I will say, the little things make a big difference.
1. We spend a lot of time in our home reiterating the themes of Hanukkah – the miracle of the holiday, love, and light and while it is not Christmas, it is still a special milestone and an important story in Jewish history.
2. I visit my kid’s classroom and teach about Hanukkah. In addition, we play dreidel and share chocolate gelt with their friends. This has proven to make our kids proud to be able to share our traditions this time of year.
3. We decorate our home with Hanukkah decor with whatever options we can find. I mean, would it be nice to have more than a little endcap at Target or HomeGoods? Sure. Do we still buy what we can there to show “hi, here we are! Keep giving us options!?” Sure do!
4. We take opportunities to share traditions with neighbors and friends, whether this means having a group over for Hanukkah fun, or visiting our friends to help decorate their tree. Sharing our own unique traditions is one of the best ways to learn about one another, an opportunity to explore our diversity. We love it when friends ask us to share our Jewish traditions and for our friends to share theirs.
My husband and I have learned, from our own childhood experiences at this time of year, that the magic is about making your own traditions with loved ones. Traditionally, for the Jewish community, Christmas Day itself is a time to get together, go to the movies, and order Chinese food. This is a core memory from my husband’s childhood whenever he thinks of Christmas. While not the “typical” Christmas day, our kids now look forward to seeing a movie and enjoying a Chinese dinner with their friends.
This time of year is full of magic, and the best part of all is that it reminds us of the importance of building memories with our children, friends, and extended families, despite your religion or traditions. This is a constant experience that we as parents share, regardless of religion or background. As I continue to learn and navigate parenthood this time of year, I am so aware that there really are so many more similarities than differences between us all. Happy Holidays to you and your families, however you celebrate with one another.
Author: Lisa Shall
Lisa is a mom of two: an 8 yr old boy and a 6 yr old girl and lives in Ottawa Hills with her husband David. Lisa studied psychology at the University of Michigan, and later graduated with a masters degree from Columbia University. Fun fact: she lives in a house divided, having married a buckeye and each of her kids have taken sides. Fall is an interesting time of year in her house!