Growing up we were a Christmas and a Hanukkah family, a familiar scenario for interfaith families. Well, interfaith might be a smidge of an overstatement. My father is a lapsed Catholic, my mom picks and chooses from the Buffet of Jewish Traditions. Let’s call us interfaith-ish.
Growing up it was easy to be a Christmas and Hanukkah family. We all lived in the same house. Eight nights of candles and dreidels, a morning of stockings and presents there, it was all schedule-able. We were equal parts Hanukkah and Christmas, there was balance and symmetry, peace and goodness rang throughout the land.
Then my siblings and I grew up, and went to college, and moved out of the house, and lived in different places. And Hanukkah got complicated.
For those familiar with the Jewish calendar, which does not at all sync up with the Gregorian calendar, you’re aware that the eight days of Hanukkah are basically always eight different days of December. Which means sometimes Hanukkah falls on the week of Christmas when everyone’s already home for the holidays, hooray! It also means that sometimes Hanukkah falls during the first week of December (like it did this year) and then nobody’s home, so we can’t celebrate together, and if we can’t celebrate together, what’s the point of celebrating at all? So that’s The Story of How We Didn’t Celebrate Hanukkah as a Family This Year or The Story of How My Guilt Ate Me Alive and Then Spit Out My Bones Into a Disgusting Pile of Drool and Stuff, The End.
Except no. Guilt Monster, no, I will live to see another day. Instead of just defaulting to Shame Mode and staying on that setting until my battery died, I actually tried to be both logical and thoughtful about this whole thing. After all, what was more important, white-knuckling tradition until I lost all feeling in my hands? Or being flexible and letting the holidays morph into what they want to be rather than forcing them to be exactly the same thing every single year from now until the end of time.
It weirdly makes sense that I’m learning this lesson of flexibility from both Christmas and Hanukkah, because both holidays are noted masters of transformation.
Even today you can see holidays morphing and changing to accommodate the needs of the people. We’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving as a family-centric holiday since the beginning of the 19th century, but in the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of “Friendsgiving,” a Thanksgiving for friend groups. Leslie Knope’s “Galentine’s Day,” Seth Cohen’s “Chrismukkah,” Seinfeld’s “Festivus,” for the last few decades TV writers have been dreaming up missing holidays and we’ve been completely accepting them into the calendar year because that’s how holidays works. There’s something in the zeitgeist that demands to be celebrated, and snap crackle pop, just like magic, a day appears.
We think of holidays as being these bastions of tradition, and that’s kind of true, but it’s also kind of not. Holidays don’t want to be known for their arbitrary rules. Traditions don’t want to stagnate. A celebration, at its best, is a magical moment in time that makes everyone feel wholly included and reminded on a deep and true level about what really matters in this life.
So, yes, of course I wish I could’ve celebrated Hanukkah with my family this year. But I get to celebrate SOMETHING with my family, and this year, that’s Christmas. And it’s the celebrating that’s important. If the histories of holidays have taught me nothing else, they’ve taught me that the symbols, traditions, and dates aren’t the clinchers. Any day set aside that allows you to have a magical and memorable time with the people you love best is something gorgeous and good in my book.
(Image via Warner Bros)