For the four years that I’ve been writing this Kids Konnection column, every December I address the topic of Chanukah in some way – how to deal with the December Dilemma, how to celebrate the holiday in a more meaningful way, how to strike a balance between making too much of a minor holiday versus making it special, and the list goes on.
This year, I want to focus on a slightly different issue, but one that is definitely related to Chanukah and the “holiday season.” I will be up front from the outset that I know it is NOT likely that I will take my own advice. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t good advice, but, rather, means that I’m stubborn, set in my ways, and convinced that I can “do it all,” even if it kills me!
What I’d like to talk about is how we might be better off if we try to pare down the way we celebrate Chanukah and approach the whole holiday season. Sometimes it appears that we are so focused on wanting to do everything, create and follow traditions, and have the “perfect” holiday with all the bells and whistles, that we go overboard and drive ourselves to the point of exhaustion in trying to accomplish everything. Perhaps the holiday season would be even more enjoyable if we weren’t so tired from all of the preparations, if we spent a quiet evening at home relaxing with our families rather than having guests every night or filling our calendars with other commitments, and if everything were just simplified a little bit.
It’s common to feel a little bit of pressure around the holidays, because there is so much to do to make each and every holiday season a “perfect one” for our families. When Chanukah is early in the season, as it is this year, it’s even harder because not only do we have to get all of our shopping done and plans made earlier, but also we tend to celebrate our own holiday of Chanukah early in December and then continue to enjoy the fun of the holiday season throughout the rest of the month. Earlier this evening, I decided that it was mid November and it was time to make my list of things that need to get done for Chanukah. Granted, these things are all a pleasure, and I love creating a wonderful holiday for our family, but still, however pleasurable they may be, it’s a lot to do in a short amount of time and often creates a bit of stress to get it all done.
What’s on my list, you may ask? Just to name a few items: select pictures of family for Chanukah cards; order cards; update card list; write annual “holiday letter”; assemble, address, and mail cards; make lists of gifts to buy; shop for gifts; wrap gifts; schedule Chanukah parties for Chavurah, other temple friends, friends from school, friends from neighborhood; decorate house; make and decorate cookies with kids; fill “8 Days of Hanukkah” treat boxes for the kids; buy, wrap, and deliver gifts for adopted family; buy, wrap, and deliver toys for Toys for Tots drive; buy, wrap, and deliver gifts for teachers and coaches; and the list goes on. Is all of it enjoyable? Yes, of course. Is all of it necessary? No, probably not. Does a lot of it lead to extra stress? Yes, definitely… too much to do, too many calories, too much money spent…. all of it leads to some element of stress, even though they’re all good things and wonderful traditions.
Most likely our Chanukah and holiday season would be just as fulfilling if we didn’t do quite so much. The house would look just as nice without every corner being decorated. A quiet evening of dinner, singing, playing dreidle, and relaxing with just the family might be a nice change of pace from having friends and family over every night for eight nights. Everyone might enjoy saving a bit of time and money by choosing names for a gift exchange rather than everyone buying for every person. The brisket or turkey might taste just as good if it were “ordered in,” and, trust me, the latkes from the box mix taste as good or better than the ones from scratch! Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to actually sit down and eat with your family instead of their being finished by the time you put out all the food and sit down to eat. Even though I know for sure I won’t give up sending our annual photo cards with newsy letter, I do have friends who have given up this tradition and find themselves feeling a lot less pressured as the holidays approach.
There is no right or wrong to the dilemma of how much or how little to do to celebrate Chanukah… it’s all a matter of personal preference. We have the freedom to pick and choose which traditions we continue with and which we choose to give up in order to simplify things and enjoy everything more. Some of us might value cooking and would never even think of not making Bubie’s latkes and homemade jelly doughnuts, but would be relieved and perfectly happy to skip sending holiday cards and do e-mails instead. Others would never consider not buying a personal gift for each and every person on our list, but once all the cards are sent and gifts are delivered, they’d be happy to be on the first plane out to spend the holidays lounging on a beach at a resort rather than spending the holidays with family and friends.
And then there are those like me… who like to do it all, who actually enjoy the traditions and the preparations of Chanukah and go the whole nine yards – even if it means we only sleep four hours a night for awhile to get everything accomplished. As long as we keep in mind that what’s important is that we enjoy holidays with our families and friends and stay healthy and sane… our families are happy to have the traditions and the festivities, but definitely not at the expense of being able to enjoy them with a relaxed, sane, and healthy mom!