Managing the Holidays when You Don’t Celebrate Christmas originally ran in December, 2021.
My preschooler LOVES Christmas— Christmas trees, lights, stockings, Santa, the whole nine yards—which is ironic because we don’t technically celebrate Christmas. You see, we’re Jewish. Now, I know there are plenty of Jewish families who decorate a tree or visit Santa. Not us, even though we are Jewish in a thoroughly secular way. My husband feels strongly about this one differentiator, so I let him have it. I have to tell you, this was much easier before we had kids.
From the beginning of our relationship, my husband and I have celebrated Hanukkah together. It may be a minor holiday in the scheme of the Jewish calendar, but we’ve always made it into a big thing. The one thing I love most in the cold, short days of winter is candlelight, which Hanukkah has in spades. When our daughter was born, we were very excited to share the magic of Hanukkah with her. To be fair, she loves Hanukkah, too — eight nights of gifts, treats, and family time while the menorah burns brightly in the background … what’s not to love? But then Hanukkah ends, and the rest of the world goes on celebrating the Christmas season.
Around age 3, my daughter started asking why other people in our neighborhood get to have colorful twinkle lights and those inflatable monstrosities that kids love. Every time we take a trip to Target post-Halloween, she insists upon walking through the holiday section to admire the Christmas trees. So, as she gets older, I’ve tried to double down on making Hanukkah even more magical, adding blue and white lights to decorate the doorways and mantle and decorative window clings. I drew the line at the giant inflatable menorah for the front yard. Sorry, not sorry. I’ve also instituted an extra day of candlelight and treats for Winter Solstice. And, we go big for New Year’s Eve (which conveniently ends at approximately 7:30 p.m. as far as she knows).
Each time she asks about why we haven’t gone to visit Santa, my husband patiently explains again. The last time, she rolled her eyes and said, “Daddy, anyone can celebrate any holiday. We don’t leave people out.” I smiled at her sass (since it wasn’t directed at me for once). Her response made me think, though, about where my angst about her “missing out” was coming from. Growing up in a strictly religious home, I often felt left out of things that other kids got to do and wished I could just be “normal” like everyone else. Definitely a me issue, not hers.
I wish I had a nice bow to tie this story up in, but I don’t. I’ll keep working in pursuit of not projecting my own feelings on my children. Maybe someday we’ll revisit our stance on Christmas. Maybe not. In the meantime, we’ll keep making magic and building our own unique mixture of holiday traditions.