Mamapedia City Voices highlights the inside scoop on your city by selected writers, from up-and-coming mom bloggers to well-known mom experts.
As a child, Hanukkah always seemed like the unfortunate stepsister of Christmas. Even though I was raised in Berkeley, I was one of the only Jewish kids at my school and was constantly reminded of what I was missing out on. My best friend had one of those mothers who decorated the house with wreaths and twinkly lights and put out dishes of seasonal candy. As I wistfully ate fistfuls of red and green Christmas M&Ms and stuffed my face with marzipan elves, I wondered why all I got was a dreidel and some greasy potatoes.
My parents were fond of reminding me that Hanukkah was not a major Jewish holiday, and that its commercialization to compete with Christmas, made them sick. They begrudgingly gave me a small gift for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, but there was not much revelry involved. On Christmas we would scarf down Chinese food and see movies with the other Jews. I was always relieved when Christmas was over so life could resume as normal and the playing field would be level again.
Eventually, my family gave up on Hanukkah and started a new tradition celebrating Christmas in the country with our dear family friends. The bizarre part was we were all Jewish. These particular friends loved celebrating Christmas and didn’t care what anyone thought! They had red and green felt stockings for each of us and an impressive Christmas tree filled with enough ornaments and lights to fool even Santa. We would sleep over at their house and in the morning I would rush out to open gifts, sing Christmas carols, and eat bagels and lox—the only sign that we were imposters. Much to my dismay, when my parents divorced, this lovely tradition slowly petered out and we reverted back to Hanukkah.
Now that I have my own kids, I feel determined to make Hanukkah fun for them: A celebration of light and love. Last year, we decided to hold a Hanukkah party at our house complete with games, and Jewish foods and music. I love hosting parties and was thrilled to have the opportunity to reinvent the holiday season for myself.
My excitement was tempered when I took a trip to CVS. As I walked up and down every aisle searching for Hannukah décor, I found nothing. Zilch. Nada. There were five aisles dedicated to Christmas so I assumed there would be at least one Hanukkah display, but nothing. No gelt, no dreidels, no menorahs or candles. When I asked the store employee she looked at me blankly and told me they didn’t carry Hanukkah items. I left dejected.
This year, as Christmas approached, I found myself sheltering my daughter from catching on. I was terrified she might ask me why Santa doesn’t come to our house or why she won’t get a stocking filled with treats. Recently, we had a play-date and our host had a beautiful Christmas tree. “What is this?” my daughter asked. When I responded nervously that it was a Christmas tree she exclaimed, “Yes! Some kids celebrate Christmas but we get to celebrate Hanukkah!”
I realize now that what I treasured so much about my family’s Christmas tradition was the togetherness of it all and not the religion or even the presents. More than anything, I just loved being with our dearest friends, singing songs and eating around a big table while we laughed and talked. I always felt happy, cozy and joyful there. As an adult, I want to make sure my kids grow up loving the holiday season, instead of feeling inferior or left out. This year we will light the candles, sing songs, play dreidel and make potato latkes together. I am inventing a new tradition too. This year, the day after Christmas, we will go to CVS and buy the Christmas candy for half off. I really like those chewy peppermint ones and I would hate for my kids to feel left out.
Shira Gill honed her skills as a personal organizer in Los Angeles, bringing order to the frenetic lives of agents, actors, and producers. Now back in her native Bay Area, she owns Simply Sorted, where she works with individuals and families to streamline their homes and simplify their lives. Shira lives in an enviably organized home with her husband and two daughters, and blogs at Simply Sorted.