Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chanukah Wrap-Up

I'm like a month late writing up my Chanukah wrap-up, but here goes anyway.

LL was just 3 months old at his first Chanukah (2008). We bought him two (very small) presents, we lit candles the first few nights, then we flew to visit my parents, where we celebrated with my brother and his family as well. It was low-key, there were limited gifts, and we did very little to establish or follow through on any actual holiday traditions, but it didn't matter much, because LL was just 3 months old.

In 2009, LL was one, but he still had very little concept of presents. We bought him a few books, he got a few gifts from grandparents, we lit our menorah moments before he went to sleep each night. And I was super busy with work. Honestly, Chanukah barely registered for us that year.

In 2010, LL was two, and we decided that since he was old enough to understand the whole opening presents thing, he would open one present each night of Chanukah. (When I was a kid, we had one present each night; some were very small, and one or two were bigger, and there was a ton of strategy involved in looking at the pile of presents on the first night and plotting out which one to open each night. Open the big one first? Save it for the last night? What if size doesn't relate to how cool it is? So many decisions!) We got LL his own little menorah and we lit candles as a family and played with dreidels and read Chanukah books. It was nice. Also, I was 9 months pregnant at the time, and I was a little desperate for LL to have a great holiday before his whole little world fell apart with the addition of a sibling. So it was needlessly stressful. Also, even though LL understood the presents, and enjoyed lighting candles, I don't think there were very much comprehension of the holiday.

Which brings us to this year. LL was three. Kermit was days away from turning one. I had started a new job just days earlier. Things were hectic. And they got a bit out-of-hand. Grandparents sent gifts; aunts and uncles sent gifts; we bought (too many) gifts; and when we added it all up, we had a pile of thirty presents sitting in our dining room on the first night of Chanukah. We hadn't put up any decorations (I usually decorate a bit, just to make things look festive for a few days), we barely got the menorahs out in time, we were lucky that we had enough mismatched candles to make it through the holiday, I didn't find the dreidels until the week was almost over, and I did a crappy job of explaining to LL what it was all about. As a result, I'm pretty sure that all he got out of the experience was that you light some candles and then you get toys. Which really sucks, honestly. Big Chanukah FAIL, in my opinion.

The only thing working for us, I think, is that LL is likely to have only vague memories of Chanukah 2011 when it rolls around again next December. He'll remember a bit, I think, but not very detailed. But this year is probably the last one for which I'll be able to say that. Half-way through Chanukah this year, I told S that I felt like we had blown it this year, but we now had eleven months to figure out what we want this holiday to be for our family, and one more shot to get it right before we would be confusing the heck out of our kids by changing stuff on the fly.

So. Next year, there will be a plan. A conscience effort to celebrate Chanukah the way we want to celebrate it for the majority of our kids' childhoods (with minor variations based on changing circumstances of course; right now, we're trying to get the broad strokes to line up with our family values, if that makes sense). And while I know that Chanukah isn't "supposed" to be a major holiday, it has always been important in my family, and I would like it to have special meaning for LL and Kermit as well. (Though still not as big a deal as Passover.) (I love love love Passover.) Here's what I'm thinking:

We should put up some decorations, because I like the idea of the house looking different during holidays. For us, this usually means dreidels and menorahs decorating the windows and a foil Happy Chanukah sign hanging in the living room. It also means a blue wooden star gets displayed, which my grandfather made when my mom was a little girl, which he gave to me when LL was born and I didn't even manage to take out of the garage this year. We should get out the dreidels and teach the actual game to the kids, and we should have M&Ms on hand to play with, since that is our traditional dreidel currency. We should have some chocolate gelt around the house as a treat after dinner. Lighting the menorahs should be the centerpiece of every evening. We should have homemade latkes one night, and at least one really festive dinner. We should get out the pile of Chanukah books that are mixed into our bookcase year-round and make a point of actually talking about them during the week. And we should limit our own gifts for the kids, so that they end up with truly one gift per night, some of which are new socks, because every Jewish kid I know gets a pair of socks as a gift for at least one night of Chanukah.

Not to say that we got everything wrong this year. I was happy with how a few things played out. LL loved "lighting" the toy wooden menorah that my mom got him last year. Both kids ended up liking latkes, which was a nice surprise, since they both hate potatoes. (The applesauce helped.) The abundance of presents included many books and very few things requiring batteries, and really, it's hard to complain that we were just so darn fortunate that our friends and family bought too many shiny new toys for our children. And best of all, I overheard LL explaining Chanukah to one of his friends, and he carefully told her that after we eat dinner, we light candles and then we sing and then we all get a big Chanukah hug, and then we open presents.

So at least he knew to list all the important parts.


  1. It sounds like a very good plan to me!

  2. This is just like my Christmas post. It's nice to have a few years to figure it out, but at some point you do have to sit down and plan what each holiday tradition should be. I hope we both pull it off this year!

    1. I'm glad to see that someone else is still getting past mid-December, rather than gearing up for Valentine's day (and then purim). We are also reevaluating holidays as they go along and this year hanukkah was an utter disaster (I didn't even buy candles until about 3 hours before the holiday, we failed to light candles with the whole family even once ...). I was just going to add that donuts is an easy tradition to add to your list, and if you want to talk about the meaning we generally go with miracles over assimilation. There are a lot of wonderful Jewish children's lit on miracles/inherited wisdom (a la Isaac Bashevis Singer stories in simpler form) and we try to use those to make the holiday a little more meaningful although it definitely remains a minor holiday for us.


Talk To Me!