Christmas Schmristmas — It’s Hanukah Envy, Baby

Hanukah begins tomorrow night, and I’ve been shopping.

“I think the boys are going to be disappointed,” I bemoaned last night, as I pictured them opening presents that include sweatshirts and pajamas. My husband tried to console me, “Didn’t you also get them each a Wii game?” 

“Yeah, but I can’t find the box I put them in.”

Sigh. This time of year, I’m a big ball of conflict. All year long, when they ask for stuff (mostly crap), I brush them off with, “Let’s put it on the Hanukah list.” Then I forget about it. Mostly, they do, too.

On the one hand, I don’t want to encourage them to be materialistic, so there’s no iPad, no oversized heavy box laden with a massive toy that will be abandoned or busted or both by next week. But I also want them to be delighted, thrilled, ecstatic! I want them to be happy. I want them to like Hanukah. I want them not to be bummed out that they are Jewish.

Where’s Adam Sandler when I need him?

I suppose a little Christmas envy is a rite of passage for Jewish kids. It builds character. I should take heart; mine have graduated from envy to competitive Hanukah pride. The evidence? Yesterday, I surprised Emmett by taking him to the cupcake store for the first time in months. He browsed his choices and exclaimed, “There are Hanukah cupcakes!” and he picked out the one with the most frosting. The next little girl who walked in the door, whose mother and I went to Jewish pre-school together, did the same. More evidence: my sixth-grader reported that his friend was telling him all the reasons Christmas was better than Hanukah. Aaron didn’t back down, but instead gave him the whole “we’ve got eight nights” spiel.

“Oh yeah, well all you’ve got is fire!” his friend countered, referring to our menorah.

Aaron didn’t miss a beat. “Do you know how many house fires are started by Christmas trees?” I have no idea where that line of argument came from, but we’ll see how well his friend sleeps from now until New Years.

As long as we Jews live in a non-Jewish world, there will always be some Christmas envy, at least for those who see the holidays as a time for getting lots of presents. (An inverse relationship exists for those of us who do that shopping.) But that same dynamic, a match-up of holiday versus holiday, can be a catalyst to look at who you are and find strength, identity, family, community and pride. And that’s before word one about those kickass Macabbees. I can’t wait until Aaron tells his friends about them.