Thursday, November 28, 2013

My First Hanukkah - Creating Our Own Traditions

Last year at Hanukkah, we were in the middle of our Intro to Judaism course to study for my conversion and had just moved into our house, so our Hanukkah celebration was a little slapdash. We gave each other a few presents all on the first night, and we lit the electric menorah that my parents had given us, placing it in our sunporch window at the front of the house. That was pretty much it.

This year we made sure to get each other eight gifts and are only opening one per night. We have more decorations around the house that we bought on clearance for 90% off last year after the holiday - a little sign, two sets of dreidels, a crystal dreidel for our dining room table, dish towels, and two menorahs. We used the book our rabbi gave us that has blessings for home rituals to say the blessings for lighting the menorah.

My family is infamous for the quirky things we make into traditions. Everyone has traditions, of course, but we can be very ritualistic about the most arbitrary of things. Like the recent development in the past decade of a tradition of having a Krispy Kreme donut on Halloween morning - where did that come from and how did it become a thing?? It's one of the things I love about us, and Nicole is very patient and flexible (and sometimes amused). Since Hanukkah is new for me, the creation of traditions were just sort of tumbling out as we went along with whatever seemed "right" to me. So here is what we have already set into motion after just one season - and actually, just two days so far of one season!

We light the menorah and say the blessings. Then we put the next bulb into the electric menorah. Then we sit at the table and have "family time" until the candles have burned out, approximately an hour or less. This family time can include exchanging a gift, eating dinner, reading together, talking, anything. But we stay around the table. A gift cannot be exchanged until the menorah is lit, signifying that the next night of Hanukkah has begun. You can pick which gift you'd like to open from your pile, unless the giver has a reason to ask you to open a specific one that evening.

I am loving Hannukah rituals. I love that it lasts for EIGHT DAYS. It helps it not to be so anticlimactic. For eight days we get to light our beautiful menorah and exchange a gift and celebrate. It's not over too soon. I also love exchanging one gift at a time. I feel like it gives us a whole day to really enjoy that item and revel in it rather than having something get lost in the pile. Tonight Nicole gave me a lush bathrobe, and I will cherish it all day tomorrow while I eagerly anticipate the next gift. Oh glorious torment! I looove dragging it out like this.

Nicole does not love the torment quite as much as I do! She misses waking up to a pile of presents. She misses getting everything at once, and dragging it out day by day is less enjoyable to her than it is to me. We have always been different in that sense - I love the anticipation of a happy thing or event and it kills Nicole to wait! But even as she misses this, her eyes light up as we kindle the menorah and she joins me in the blessings without me having to ask her or give up trying. It warms my heart to watch her love of Jewish traditions grow as we go through the year. I just have to meet her halfway on this to help ease the tension for her. Like tonight we had Thanksgiving dinner at her parents' house, and as soon as it got dark (which was like 4:30!) she was antsy to get home and open another present. We lit our menorah there and I told her that as soon as it had burned out, we could go home. Once she knew what to expect, she was fine and relaxed and enjoyed the family time until it was time to go. I just had to keep my promise.

Nicole's mom said she hadn't realized Hanukkah was coming so soon and said that she had to get better about that and have a gift for us. I told her that we are happy to celebrate Hanukkah within our little household, and that we are fine with having our families exchange gifts on Christmas which is their holiday. I said that our kids will grow up knowing their extended families on both sides celebrate Christmas, and we are okay with them being included in that. We are secure enough in how we are creating a Jewish home that we can allow them to celebrate our families' holidays with them. Similarly, Nicole's brother and his fiancee, neither of whom identify as Jewish, come to our house for Rosh Hashanah dinner - they don't observe the holiday as a New Year for themselves and won't with their kids, but they come to celebrate OUR holiday with US, because it's about coming together as family with what's important to us. If my parents lived here, they'd be coming over for dinner too! It's the family togetherness that matters, and I'm about building connection and inclusion, not barriers.

Speaking of "Thanksgivukkah," I made latkes for the first time this year (and yes, said a "Shehechiyanu" at the stovetop!). Nicole has made latkes all her life, so it was very meaningful for me to be able to join in that tradition. It also helped me in a subtle way to bring Hanukkah into our Thanksgiving dinner since I knew it would otherwise by overshadowed. I used a recipe I found online for sweet potato latkes with homemade cranberry applesauce, and they were delicious! Nicole doesn't eat sweet potatoes and ate at least four of these. They were praised and quickly devoured by Jew and non-Jew alike, and I was so, so happy.

Yes, I am nostalgic for some of what I left behind. Of course I am. But I am so happy and fulfilled by what we are creating together!

1 comment:

  1. Love family time around the menorah! That'll be so good for your kids, too, as a way to disconnect/unplug from the world and focus on what it's about!