Not a Merry, but Yet a Very Happy Hanukkah

Celebrating Hanukkah as it should be....

Holidays are known (notorious) for triggering sad memories of family missing in our lives. So, of course I have been thinking about my mom and, yet, fortunately focus on memories of celebrating Hanukkah with her. My thoughts rambled and I came up with one memory or lesson for each night.

1.  Lesson, learned very young: Hhanukkah is NOT as important a holiday as Christmas. I grew up knowing that Hanukkah celebrations mimicked Christmas due to societal pressure. My parents were dedicated to recognizing the holiday and carrying out the standard rituals, without Christmasizing it.  Even as a child, my parents somehow helped me feel that the story of the Maccabees, lighting the Menorah, dreidel games and latkes were more important than gift-giving.

2.  Gifts for Children Only:  My mom was adamantly opposed to children giving Hanukkah gifts to adults. They were happy to give us gifts, but believed the -gelt-giving tradition was intended to be non-reciprocal. As a child and young adult, I might have felt relief at being spared the expense and shopping agony, but the true test of admiring this “rule” is that I pay it forward—I am very happy to not receive gifts from my children and I am truly happy to give.

3.  Hanukkah gifts: Not usually bountiful, but, even in tough years, my mom and dad gave us each one gift we requested. They joked that if we wanted one gift each night we'd have to settle for  Crayola’s box of 8 distributed over the holiday. Rebelling against this and starting with my daughter's first Hanukkah,  I decided to indulge my children the way I wish I was.... Whether it is a relative’s, friend’s or our gift, I make sure my children have at least one gift to open each night after we light the candles.

4. Shopping for Sales: We often waited to buy gifts until the Old Bridge Drug Fair lowered prices hourly before closing on Christmas Eve). Sometimes we even ventured to Toys R Us the day after Christmas for the best sales.  Some years our gifts were delayed until the monumental sales began. It was, of course, more fun to go when we had already been appeased with Hanukkah gelt and gifts and the trip filled our rooms with extra toys. One problem with my parents’ plan is that I do recall being really sad in the Barbie aisle when NOTHING was reduced. Those were the days of fewer sales and deals. As an ardent sale shopper, my mom would be overwhelmed with today's current state of sales. I wish my mom could have seen Target on Dec. 24, 2011!

5.  Better than any gift: My parents’ surprise announcement just before the holiday—we're driving to Florida. I wonder how crazed the last minute decision made my mom—preparing for the long car ride and stay in Miami or Orlando. I knew the reason for this surprise was due to either a bonus paycheck or some other “found” money. The impetus did not take away even one bit of the euphoria I felt when the trip was announced.

6.  Grandma Ray’s latkes: I can see and smell them now—meaty potato patties coated in heavy oil and fried until all of the oil soaked in. During holidays my mother lifted her usual ban on my Grandma’s food treats. My grandma was even allowed to bring the fruit slices, sweets I still crave (and must admit, buy).

7.  Dreidel games: I often think about the very simple fun my sister and I had while playing dreidel on her floor—before her 1970s green shag carpeting was installed. The tiles were a drab and cold brown during the winter, but spinning for pennies (or even luckier, Hershey's Kisses) was a tradition I relished. I still have our plastic dreidels, the bigger shallow dreidel that held the tiny ones and the piece of paper reminding us how much gelt we give or get from each letter.

8.  Keeping it simple: In keeping with the effort to celebrate Hanukkah in a non-Christmas way, we had very few decorations.  The most significant symbol of the Macabee miracle was prominently displayed—a brass electric Menorah in the window and an old-fashioned brass Menorah in the family room. I have proudly displayed the same electric Menorah, my Grandma Ray’s candle menorah and one that we received as a gift. I must admit I have decorated with Chanukah ribbon and streamers and use napkins decorated with Hanukkah symbols during the 8 days.

I wish my mom could see that she taught me well and her guidance/lessons live on. Happy Hanukkah!

Special thanks to my sister for helping me with accurate recall!

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greengirl January 01, 2012 at 05:17 PM
At some point in all my three sons' development I dealt with them feeling bad about not getting to celebrate Xmas and feeling that Chanukah just wasn't that great (especially since we do not believe that gifts are part of our tradition-only gelt, chocolate and real coins for the children). I too explained that Chanukah is not on par with Xmas as far as importance in our holidays. I read them stories, made latkes, lit menorahs-electric in the window/candles in our home, played dreidel and each year found some new hanukah toy or item to add to our family collection. Our favorite is the paper glasses that create holographic images of jewish stars and dreidels when you look at lights- this year we put them on in the car as we drove around looking at Xmas lights!! We were a sight to see with our 3D glasses but more importantly, seeing jewish symbols on so many houses was a funny irony and prompted a discussion about how there are jews all around even though we don't overtly see them. As two of my sons are older now, they see the season as a time to take in the beauty of Xmas all around us while appreciating the fact that they can enjoy the season without being participants. They come home to light the candles, say the blessings, eat the food and enjoy the calm of our own traditions. As for my youngest, still in the throws of Xmas-envy, it is his older brothers who extoll the values I taught them when they were young about the beauty and simplicity of our own traditions.
greengirl January 01, 2012 at 05:31 PM
A good book for young children with "Christmas-envy" is There's No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein by Susan Sussman. Another good read is The Christmas Menorahs by Janice Cohn - an uplifting story based on true events that occurred in Billings, Montana when a community united to stand up against acts of bigotry and hatred at holiday time. Thank you for your article. It is nice to know we are in good company enjoying the uniqueness of the Holiday of Lights.


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