Posts Tagged ‘ hanukkah ’

Appreciating Traditions: When Less is More

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Tonight, my boyfriend and I will be making the long drive to Tennessee to celebrate the once-in-a-lifetime holiday mash-up of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. I am so grateful that we get to spend these holidays with my family, especially since I haven’t been home in over a year.

However, I remember a time when having a family that didn’t celebrate Christmas felt frustrating. It was hard to explain why we didn’t celebrate Christmas to my friends. Once it was established that I celebrated Hanukkah, I had to clarify that we don’t actually get eight presents and it ranks low on the list of Jewish holidays.

“That is so uncool,” everyone would tell me, “And the other Jewish kids have trees.”

The trees weren’t in their imagination. A recent Pew study of Jewish Americans reports that there are more interreligious families than ever, at least among Jewish people. In fact, 58 percent of Jews who tied the knot between 2000-2013 married a non-Jewish spouse. (For my generation’s parents, it was 41 percent.) This has lead to an increase in multi-holiday celebrations and a decrease in menorah-only homes.

Because I felt left out, I spent a good portion of my childhood winters begging for a Christmas experience. I even began my journalism career with an article for my high school newspaper about my sadness over the tree-less state of my house.

But now that I’m nearly 1,000 miles away from home in the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, I am looking forward to going home to, well, not much of anything. We won’t be crafting or Christmas cookie baking or stringing up any lights. I don’t even have to worry about giving huge gifts or wearing festive attire. There is nothing wrong with having holiday spirit, but I am thankful that we will have the only dark house on our block in December. We’ll light candles, say some prayers, and hopefully feast on some latkes. And that’s all I need.

Jen M. L. wrote an amazing article over at the Huffington Post about embracing the title of “World’s Okayest Mom” and not starting new traditions because of media influence and general mom competition. I think her attitude is perfect. Parents: I hope you stick to your holiday traditions, however simple or small they may be. You don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to make this season special. No matter what you do, your kids will be appreciative, even if it takes a few years for them to realize it.

Christmas Crafts: Polar Bear Ornaments
Christmas Crafts: Polar Bear Ornaments
Christmas Crafts: Polar Bear Ornaments

Image: Boy with father and grandfather spinning dreidel via Shutterstock.

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Add a Little “Giving” to Your Kids’ “Getting” Holidays

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Pile of holiday giftsEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

In a rare confluence, this year the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving. How can that possibly be? Isn’t Hanukkah usually at the same time as Christmas and Kwanzaa, near the end of December? Yes, usually. But the Jewish calendar is lunar-based; unlike Christmas and Kwanzaa, which have fixed dates on the Gregorian calendar we are all most familiar with, Hanukkah (and other Jewish festivals) can vary quite a bit from year to year. This year, the lunar-Gregorian calendar variation is greater than any time since the late 19th century. And the next time Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlap, it will be 79,000 years from now! It seems a shame not to find a way to take advantage of this unique alignment of holidays, whether or not you’re Jewish.

Over the years, perhaps to keep pace with families who give presents to their kids for Christmas, parents have turned Hanukkah into a gift-getting holiday. This is not a “bah humbug” rant on my part—gifts certainly help make holidays special for kids (and for their parents!). But, as with presents on other holidays, Hanukkah gifts can distract kids from the true meaning of the holiday. Hanukkah has historical and religious significance, commemorating a military victory of a small band of Jews, the Maccabees, over a large Hellenistic army, allowing the Jewish people to reclaim and rededicate their Temple. When the Maccabees tried to light the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, they found only enough uncontaminated oil to burn for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days; hence, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and a menorah is lit with a new candle added each night.

This year, the combination of receiving gifts on Hanukkah and feeling and expressing gratitude on Thanksgiving makes for the perfect juxtaposition of getting and giving. Jewish families can combine what has become the “getting spirit” of Hanukkah with the beautiful “giving spirit” of Thanksgiving, taking the opportunity to remind kids of the importance of giving thanks, giving to charity, and helping those who are less fortunate.

After this year’s odd coincidence of getting and giving passes, should we wait another 79,000 years to remind our kids to be thankful and generous on Hanukkah? That’s a long time for an important lesson! Instead, why not incorporate the Thanksgiving message into every “getting” holiday every year—like Hanukkah, Christmas, and even birthday celebrations? Let’s all agree to spend a part of every “getting” holiday in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Teach kids to give thanks for the many blessings they have, and to give generously to others who aren’t as blessed. In that way, our kids will be giving while they’re getting, and be thankful for the opportunity to do both.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).


Image: Colorful gift packages and ribbons via Shutterstock.

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