Light, in all its illuminating glory, is a symbol for so much meaningful wonder in our lives. This is why it makes complete sense that we would honor and celebrate its presence. It comes as no coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas, the holidays of lights, meet at the same time and same place each year, lighting our homes and warming our hearts.
As all of our families are special, so is mine, unique in our composition. We have two ethnicities, two languages, and three cultures. When my husband and I chose to unite in love and created two beautiful girls we weren’t exactly thinking of the precise execution of our holiday traditions. Of course we gave consideration to what our religious and cultural needs would be, but it was never as relevant or tangible as it is presently. And now, as with many modern dilemmas, we have come to an important place. A place of choosing how to instill tradition, value, and celebratory preference into the blended open-minded lives of our young ones.
We are not alone I know, this is a societal dilemma with many different solution options. As with most matters of religion, spirituality, and cultural practice, resolution of any kind is always an intimately personal decision. Similarly, it is a delicate matter to choose practices for our children with consideration to what they will see and experience in their surroundings outside the home and beyond our choosing. Despite the melting-pottness of the United States, indisputably, Christmas remains the dominant holiday. And so it’s no surprise at all, that over the years Hanukkah has been fluffed and elevated in stature and importance to be of comparable significance. This is mainly seen through the gift-giving status quo which has become eight gifts, eight nights. I may or may not be the first to let you know that Hanukkah by origin is a simple unextravagant humble holiday in which traditionally children would get a small symbolic token of chocolate coins or some pocket change. You can see how insufficient this may feel for those celebrating next to Christmas…and so Hanukkah, probably by the powers of guilted parents, became an enhanced version of itself.
I can vividly remember being young and feeling somewhat left out of the splendor of the winter holidays. Sure we celebrated Hanukkah, but it was in the modest traditional way, which seemed less than glamorous in comparison to the glitz of lights and trees and stockings and rooms filled with gifts that Christmas seemed to bring. Let’s be honest here, when you’re a kid you’re looking less for meaning and more for toys. And while there were others in the neighborhood or school who celebrated Hanukkah, ALL of them also celebrated Christmas! It was a generation of kids celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas and most of them not knowing much of the meaning of either. That is how I came to have acceptance, in knowing that at least I knew what my holiday was about and that made me feel pretty good. More presents would have been nice too, but I’m over that now, sort of.
So here we are, a quarter of a century later, and I am a parent in a position to create my own family traditions. While it’s very exciting and empowering, I am challenged by seeking a balance of meaning and gifts as well as honoring our multi-cultural and multi-lingual composition. Oh yes, and never forgetting about what my children may see in public places and potentially feel excluded from. Sure we’ve evolved some in the past decade or so, coming up with witty names such as Chrismukkah and Hannamas and Festivus, but have they any real meaning beyond the humor appeal? For me the answer is No, if it were as simple as combining words then I would not have to debate what iconic items I should bring into the house and how to best explain holiday stories without contradicting myself.
If you were hoping for a nice tidy solution or a friendly “how to”, I’m sorry to say it won’t be found here. What I will say is that we are “open”. We are triple E’ing it: exploring, experimenting, and explaining. And one more E, in hopes of exposing our young ones to enough celebratory wonderfullness that in time, they will find their own path towards their own life philosophies and spirituality. Therein lays the importance I believe, in having an individual sense of self and strength which can comfort and bring acceptance and appreciation to one’s culture and roots. Knowing our family history, we take what is important to us and leave what feels imposed or uncomfortable. This becomes the greatest gift of all, the gift of freedom and choice, to know that it is acceptable to create your own spiritual identity and that you will be loved and supported regardless, that is the message we give to our children. So for now, we will celebrate what unifies us. Our home, our love for one another, and the unifier of all of the holidays of the season, light. Let there be light in our lives…and so it shall be.