The holidays are always a source of fun, tension, stress, enjoyment, exhilaration, and as adults, silent discontent. Sitting in traffic, imaginary parking lot wars, trudging through lines at our favorite (and some not so) stores to find the perfect gift for that special someone. It’s all so delightful and so disappointing at the same time. It is especially frustrating and annoying for a Jew. You know why? Because we have eight crazy nights of celebration. And Chanukah doesn’t always fall so close to Christmas. We are lucky when it doesn’t. Chanukah shopping is usually easier, less stressful, and quite a bit more fun. Aside from the gifts, the excitement of the festival lights is always culminated with dreidel and latkes with applesauce.
But as I sit on the sofa with my two-year old son, watching the Polar Express for the umpteenth time in the last week, a little part of me gets teary eyed as the mother whispers to her husband, “the end of the magic.”
It’s not that Chanukah isn’t a fantastic holiday in and of itself, especially for the little ones who receive gifts. It is, it is truly one of my favorite times of the year. But a teeny tiny part of me gets choked up while watching Christmas movies because I didn’t get to experience “the magic.” Sure, we have the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil, but we don’t have a jolly old man who eats milk and cookies and can fit down (and up) virtually any chimney in the entire world. And I won’t mention the fact that he has eight tiny reindeer and can circle the globe in one fantastic night. I don’t know what it’s like to try to stay up all night, listening and straining to hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh, and warm and snuggled in my bed. I do know, however, what it’s like to snoop in every closet in the house, weeks before Chanukah, to perhaps get a peek at the goods that will soon be in my possession.
There’s a different kind of excitement around Chanukah. We didn’t have elaborate family gatherings or attend friends Chanukah parties. I’m sure there are plenty of Jews out there who do partake and host such festivities. Maybe I was just hanging out with the wrong ones. At least Chanukah has largely escaped unscathed the brutality of over-commercialization in the retail sector. I noticed Target has a larger-than-normal Chanukah display. This year an entire aisle is dedicated to the Jewish Festival of Lights. Ordinarily it’s just an endcap.
I’m glad that my son will experience the excitement and anticipation of Chanukah, as well as the sheer joy and pure magic of Christmas. Tonight, as we celebrate the first night of Chanukah, he will light the candles, play dreidel, and hopefully win some gelt. Tomorrow, we will make latkes as a family and have a mini party all on our own. I’ll instill in him all of the enjoyment and pleasure I experience as a child during this wondrous holiday. And on Saturday, he’ll learn the excitement of gathering with a large family for Christmas Eve dinner, and might even conceptualize the anticipation of Santa Claus’ arrival later that evening. He might be a touch young for the latter, but he’ll at least get to snuggle warmly and happily in his bed, and wake up to a stuffed stocking, a tree full of gifts, and a day full of fun. He is a fortunate soul, this young one. He gets the best of both worlds indeed.
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