The holidays are a truly beautiful time of the year. Although we live in San Diego, the trees begin to take on the faint colors of rust and auburn. The weather drops from the 90’s to the 70’s (sometimes.) As adults, however, this time of year becomes more complicated. It isn’t all about bright lights and fairytales anymore.
We have budgets to consider. As full-time employees, my husband and I struggle to save up enough vacation time. He’s still expected to work at least some of the holiday. There are presents to buy, cards to send, lines to stand in.
In other words, the holidays are a lot of work.
I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer. Quite the opposite, honestly. As a mother, and a person with a long list of responsibilities, special moments during the holidays are more meaningful than ever. I just needed to plan ahead well enough to get through this season and survive the holidays with our sanity, wallets, and patience intact.
Cute tree, right?
Yea, but the thing is . . . we’re Jewish.
As a kid, I dealt with serious jealousy of all of the children celebrating Christmas. They got the decorations, the huge presents, and people wishing them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. What about me?
To double down on the humiliation, my birthday is Dec. 22nd. My friends were leaving every year for winter break, and family was doubling up on my Hanukkah and birthday presents. I realize these are deeply minor problems, and I was lucky in virtually every way to have loving friends and family around me, but I did feel pretty left out at this time of year. My parents threw me wonderful parties, and I never wanted for anything. I have amazing memories of turning a year older every Winter Solstice.
Fast-forward once again to being a mom of two young children. While we may celebrate differently than some of our close friends, I embraced the idea of inclusion. Teach their friends about Hanukkah and our traditions, and appreciate that everyone does things differently. Our histories are shaped by more than just religion; they are also influenced by who we are as people, and that is a beautiful thing no matter our background.
The Jewish moms at my kids’ school came together to teach the children about Hanukkah and its rich history. The kids ate sufganiyot (donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) and played with dreidels. They danced to a traditional song and listened to a story book. Within a few minutes, we were able to open their eyes to a new world. That felt really special.
With the Hanukkah lesson a success, we gave the kids their big present for the holiday: a day at Knotts Berry Farm, a theme park about 2 hours north. We stayed at the Knotts Berry Farm Hotel, a wonderful hotel with a great restaurant and amenities for kids. When my son spotted Snoopy in the elevator, it pretty much made his entire day.
Knotts Berry Farm is fantastic for kids, particularly on a slow weekday. My pair was able to ride each ride multiple times. The kids section, known as Camp Snoopy, was easy to navigate with such cute little rides (many of them were appropriate for L at two years old!)
It was an incredibly successful trip, and I wouldn’t mind repeating it next year. I was grateful that we were able to give them a day like they had.
The park was decorated all over with Christmas decor. We cooed over the lights and the ornaments and the trees along with everyone else.
In summary, I’m not worried about my kids feeling isolated or left out at this time of year. Here’s the thing: Christmas is about love. Giving. Togetherness. That’s what I will teach my children. And if they ever get jealous of their friends, we will do what we did this year. Embrace each other’s traditions, read stories about what we have in common, and remind our babies how lucky they are to have so much.
And as for me, I will keep on working to help my family see the beauty in the world during the holiday season instead of just “surviving” it. I owe that to my parents, who did the same for me.