Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hanukkah Motherlode

Those of you who know me or follow my blog know that I wasn't raised in a Jewish home. I grew up Methodist and converted shortly before the birth of my second child in 2007. So I'm still pretty new at this being Jewish thing.

Growing up, everything about being Jewish was a bit of a mystery to me. Especially Hanukkah. Robin was my first Jewish friend. I met her when I was six. I knew she was special because she had a swimming pool. With a slide. And she also told me that she got presents for 8 days in a row during a holiday I couldn't pronounce because she was Jewish. As far as I could tell she was living the dream.

I remember the day I learned about the whole Hanukkah motherlode. I marched home, hands on hips and demanded to know why we couldn't be Jewish so I could get presents for 8 days. My mother promptly told me that we couldn't be Jewish because we were Methodist and if I wanted presents for 8 days I could kiss Santa goodbye. (Not to mention a few other key figures in history, but I'm pretty certain she didn't get into all of that. She was never long on explanations.)
Our family moved out of the neighborhood and Robin and I lost touch, but the association of Hanukkah and presents stuck with me.

It's funny how life works out. I wished I was Jewish at age 6 for the wrong reasons and ended up becoming Jewish at 37 for the right ones. Yet somehow those 6-year old dreams made their way back into my first Hanukkah with Ben. Remembering what I had longed for as a child, I made that first holiday about the presents shopping and then wrapping eight little packages for Ben. More things he didn't need and I didn't want to pick up and put away. Even more, as each night passed, my efforts seemed to be more and more lost on the short attention span of a 3-year old who opened the gifts nearly as quickly as he tossed them aside to focus on the "fire" and our pleas that he not blow out the candles. We continued to light the candles each night, but by the end of the week I began to wonder whether I'd wasted my time getting all those gifts. And I began to wonder even more why I had done it in the first place. Why couldn't the storytelling, prayers and candlelighting have been enough? How had my selfish 6-year old priorities made their way into my 37-year old parenting paradigm?

Ben was too young to remember his first (and last) Hanukkah motherlode. These days he and Sarah spend the first night of Hanukkah with all of their cousins, eating latkes, lighting the Menorah, spinning dreidels, getting gelt and opening their special first night present. The rest of the nights we light the Menorah at home. And that's just enough for all of us.

I hope that doesn't make me a Hanukkah scrooge. But mostly I hope that if one of Ben's inquisitive 6-year old classmates asks him about the whole Hanukkah thing he remembers to say it's about the festival of lights ... and not about the presents.

1 comment:

  1. I don't often leave comments, but I do enjoy your posts!