Before I became a mom, I naively thought that Christmastime with children would be filled with magic, peace and amazing memories. I thought I’d happily wrap all the presents, decorate the house, get the tree, bake cookies, address the Christmas cards, and host a shit ton of people in the house.
But now? Now I’m actually a mom.
Now I know about the Elf on the Shelf. Now I know about volunteering at the holiday parties in the boys’ school. Now I know that I’m supposed to buy a small token for the teachers. And the aides. And the art/gym/music/Spanish teacher. And the crossing guard. But not candles! (They have too many.) But not gift cards! (Too impersonal.) But not ornaments! (That’s too personal.)
ENTER: Jewish husband.
Before I became a mom, and after I married a Jew, I pictured the holidays with a beautiful blend of both traditions, exposing the boys to as much of our childhoods as possible. (I even thought about starting my own online interfaith holiday decoration website, because there really aren’t any.)
This beautiful blend of tradition. . .let’s do some math.
Eight nights of Hanukkah times two kids is sixteen gifts. That’s sixteen new things before Santa even comes. F to the M to the L.
This beautiful blend is gluttonous. Most parents are trying to get kids to cut down their lists. Me? I’m begging for more so I can fill both holidays. Let’s not even talk about the kid with the January birthday.
Now, I know how this sounds. It sounds like I’m raising two greedy, spoiled a-holes who aren’t even learning the valuable messages that are abundant this time of year. That’s not true.
They know the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights. They know about the persecution of Jews throughout history and that our family exists because of sacrifices and the hell that their ancestors endured. They wear yarmulkes when we light the menorah. So what if they call them “Hanukkah hats?”
They know the story of Jesus. They know that he put other people before himself. They know that he was kind. They know that he always helped. They know that he is the son of God. They think decorations of baby Jesus when he’s naked are downright hilarious.
They also recently found out that Jesus was killed by the Jews, which made the freak out a bit. Then I mentioned that Jesus was actually Jewish. This fact simultaneously relieved and confused them. Such is life for interfaith kids, I suppose.
It’s a new year and the confusion and chaos of the holiday season is behind me. Now that the tree is down and the menorah is packed away, I can reflect on my boys’ perceptions of the holiday season.
They didn’t see how overwhelmed my to-do list made me feel. They didn’t sense that I was secretly praying for it to all be over.
They saw a home filled with decorations from both their parents’ childhood traditions.
They watched as friends and family from both religions gathered around the menorah to light the candles and say the prayer.
They got excited to get the mail to see whose holiday cards we could add to our wall of friends and loved ones.
They got bundled up so we could walk in the dark (6pm) to our town fire station to select our Christmas tree and pull it home on their red wagon.
They sang along to the holiday music that was always playing in the kitchen.
They loved watching the pile of gifts for family and friends grow under the tree.
They gathered old toys that they don’t need anymore so I could donate them to GoodWill.
They smelled the oil from the latkes I fried and the sweetness of the cookies we baked.
They helped find extra pillows and blankets for all their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandma who spent the night on Christmas Eve.
Yes, they receive a lot of gifts in December. Yes, perhaps they are a tad spoiled.
But, it’s my December to-do list that is giving them the gifts they’ll carry with them forever. Togetherness. Family. Love. What else matters?