We're Jewish, although still culturally interfaith. What that means is that we are Jewish with some bonus traditions that I dragged along with me into the family. Really, the only main holiday that we celebrate (other than the Jewish holidays, and other American holidays, like Thanksgiving, Halloween, July 4th, etc) is Christmas. Although that's also like saying we celebrate absolutely everything, with the possible exception of Kwanzaa and the Chinese New Year. We don't make a big deal about Easter here in the house, but the annual egg hunt at my mother's is a favorite tradition.
So right now, we're in the middle of Hanukkah. As a family that celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah, I find that we're in an odd place. Because we are most definitely Jewish, active and happy members of the synagogue in Worcester, we do Shabbat dinner every week, and have kids CDs in Hebrew on auto repeat in the car. But we also love candy canes, my kids are amused and delighted at the prospect of Santa Claus and we're getting a tree later on this week.
But this weekend was the beginning of the week long celebration of Hanukkah. It's a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, commemorating the triumph of a small band of Jewish soldiers to reclaim the Temple. Once the Temple was cleaned up, they discovered that there was only enough oil to last one night, but, as they say, "a great miracle happened there," and the oil lasted the eight days it took to make more. We light menorahs every night (Julie keeps calling them Torahs) and every night, we try to do something special. Some nights it's presents, some nights it's a dinner at the synagogue, or we go out and look at holiday lights with hot cocoa.
Saturday night, we had the first night, and we lit all nine of the menorahs we had at that point (we've since added another, bringing the total up to ten). Each child got a book for their present. Yesterday was non-stop Hanukkah, with a family party in the morning, a menorah lighting at Newton Square in the afternoon, and then a big dinner with my stepdaughters and more presents. This afternoon, Jessie has a play that she's performing in at religious school and then we've got dinner at the synagogue. Tomorrow night, we're actually getting our tree, and then Wednesday night, we'll do another menorah lighting at religious school, Thursday night is the Boy Scouts pot luck (we're bringing latkes) and Friday night is Shabbat.
Things are crazy this year, and I'm not sure why. Last year, I remember thinking that Hanukkah was so peaceful compared to the frantic rush of Christmas, but this year it seems the exact opposite. I don't know if it's just that Hanukkah came so early this year, so I wasn't entirely mentally ready for the holidays, or if it's a function of kids getting older. More activities, more explanations about religion and why we celebrate what, more kids running around and bugging each other. Last year, Julie wasn't really walking, and she certainly wasn't claiming all gifts that come into the house as her own, the way she is this year. Last year, Sam was still five, and had no activities outside of school. Last year, Jessie was a lot younger, in many ways, and not as articulate about trying to figure out why different people follow different religions. I feel like this has been a year with a lot more squabbling, a lot more running around and a lot more spiritual questioning. All of which is lovely - don't get me wrong. I love having three (and sometimes five) kids, and squabbling is a part of that. I love having a busy, active life, with lots of friends and huge families to celebrate with. And I LOVE that my kids ask questions, I love that we discuss and debate and ponder these deep spiritual topics in the car and at night before bed.
But I also am tired. And looking forward to my week between Hanukkah and Christmas.