I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah. My dad was Jewish, as was my grandfather who lived with us when I was little, while my mom was “Christmas”, as I used to say.
There’s a story my dad tells about how we went to the Smithsonian and had to go up to this book and sign in. I wrote, “my name is Sophie Aaronson”, and in the column that said “religion”, I wrote “Christmas”. That’s pretty dead on. As a child, all I knew was the excitement of the tree, the craziness surrounding Santa and the excess/presents, and the joy of stockings and Christmas morning. I loved Christmas morning because my mom would make a huge breakfast and we would play with all our toys amongst the twinkle of white Christmas lights and the smell of pine.
As a “grown up” I felt very conflicted over the past decade about who I was and what my religion was. I began practicing yoga 12 years ago and started to develop my spirituality. When I moved to LA to live with my dad and step mom, who are both Jewish, we celebrated Hanukkah. It just was what it was. I didn’t get a choice. My stepmom grew up in a Jewish home, so Jewish holidays were the only thing celebrated. It made her feel uncomfortable to have a tree, so I didn’t push it, since it was her home.
Later, after dating Adi (my husband) for some time, religion and how we would raise our future children came up in conversation. I began the process to convert to Judaism since I truly had no connection in my heart or upbringing with Christianity. It was important to Adi and his family to have Jewish children, and in Judaism, in order for the kids to be Jewish, the mamma must be Jewish. So, I converted.
For several years I felt strange about not celebrating Christmas ever again. EVER? Really? Then I began trying to search and connect to what it was that I TRULY cared about. Was it the presents? No. For me, the holiday spirit has never really been about buying and receiving gifts. I didn’t feel a particular connection to going to church or celebrating Jesus’s birthday either. So what was it? What was I craving so deeply? It’s the tradition. It’s the EXCITEMENT I felt and shared with my siblings, the joy my mom felt in setting up all of the little surprises for us, and, as I aged, buying those I loved the most thoughtful gifts I could come up with.
So how do Adi and I strike the balance? How do we avoid creating the same confusion for our kids that I felt as a child and into my adulthood?
The answer is that we do what feels true for us. We are Jewish. That’s what we resonate with spiritually and intellectually, so we celebrate Hanukkah. But, we will also have an elf on the shelf. I will read Christmas stories to the kids and we can go visit Santa if he’s in the hood. I will get a tree, because I love the way it smells, but we won’t over do it on expensive decorations. Just romantic twinkly white lights that I have always loved and a wreath on the front door.
I hope that as the kids continue to grow, we can keep the gifts to a minimum. Maybe a few gifts for each and a fun stocking of cute creative gifts. Not gifts JUST TO GIVE GIFTS, but gifts if we find something fun we want to share for them. I don’t want there to be a huge focus on the idea that the holidays are a time when we are supposed to be particularly happy. In the same way that I want to talk about why we are grateful every single day and not just on Thanksgiving, I want our family to focus on being happy and connected all year, as many days as possible, and as many times as feel right.
So that is that. When people ask why we have a tree even though we are Jewish, or when Kai’s friends ask who Santa is and wonder why we believe in him--we also believe in fairies and magic and dress up on many more days of the year than just Halloween. It’s all about balance, not taking yourself too seriously, and above all else, being true to yourself regardless of what or how other people think you “should” be. At the end of the day, being true to yourself will allow you to radiate the most authentic joy and that is one of the very greatest gifts you can share with world.
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