Ever since I was little, I have always loved the festive spirit of the holidays. And being a natural born minimalist, it’s no surprise my excitement was never centered around gift receiving. My holiday enthusiasm stemmed from looking forward to family traditions and gatherings.
For instance, my Mom always felt bad that her Jewish children couldn’t participate in the enjoyment of decorating a Christmas tree. So, she supplemented that fabulous custom by hanging up a blue and white paper chain of dreidels that spelled out HAPPY HANUKAH! You would have thought that Chevy Chase, in National Lampoons Holiday Vacation, flicked on the switch to radiate thousands of Christmas lights to the world. My brother and I were ecstatic with her decorating efforts. Now the Festival of Lights can begin!
And what do all Jews do on Christmas while their Christian counterparts are celebrating all merry and bright? We head out to see a movie and eat Chinese food of course! I truly believe that is why Jews love Chinese food so much. Because it’s the only restaurant open on the holiday of all holidays.
One of my fondest memories is when my parents took us kids to see A Christmas Story one Christmas day. I absolutely loved the part when the family ended up eating Chinese food for their holiday meal and I remember thinking “These guys really get it!”
Our whole family would usually gather at my Grandparents’ house to celebrate one night of Hanukah. I recall the joy I had the first time I was given the honor of lighting the menorah candles. (This topped Santa coming down the chimney and stuffing a dirty old stocking with gifts any day.)
I have fond memories of the sizzling sound of my Grandpa frying dozens of homemade latkes (potato pancakes), olive oil splattered on every inch of the kitchen and everyone reeking of burnt oil. And thinking about the smell of my Grandma’s famous matzah ball soup still makes my mouth water. I felt so privileged to be asked to serve the soup and be given an extra matzah ball as a reward. Wow!
Looking back, it was the little things that had a huge impact on my love of family tradition today. What customs or quirky rituals make up your family traditions? Does Uncle Al pass out on the couch every year from drinking too much eggnog, while Grandpa Joe tells the same war stories for the 26th time? Does good old Aunt Edna hide a woopy cushion under Grandma Nellie’s seat to enhance the holiday festivities? It’s these peculiar acts that collectively create your personalized holiday experience.
Now that I have been married to a “goy” (non-Jew) with the last name Goyette (jokingly meaning little non-Jew)for the past 17-years, we have developed our own traditions and pretty much celebrate every holiday that comes along. The whole month of December is Festivus in our house.
My daughter has fully embraced every holiday ritual including “Elfie” suddenly appearing the day after Thanksgiving, decorating the Christmas tree, watching all the holiday specials and driving around on Christmas Eve to see all the lights. But, to my amazement, she gets equally as excited to commemorate the Hanukah Hutzpah. Like hanging up a paper chain of dreidels that spell HAPPY HANUKAH!
Aah, the little things! Now the Festival of Lights can begin!