While I have lit Chanukah candles for each of my 30-something years—at home with my family, in a dorm room (thereby violating the campus fire code), with a pocket-size travel menorah in Nicaragua—I have only lit them as a parent once. Last year, at six months old, Isaac was not aware of the celebration; he wasn’t interested in the candles, didn’t know what presents were and certainly did not join us in the (over)consumption of those heart attacks on a plate known as latkes.
This year, however, we’ll have to move the menorah out of his ever more insistent reach, and even though he still doesn’t really understand presents, I am eager to watch as he discovers the joys of ripping wrapping paper. I don’t give him much fried food, so I’m not sure whether I’ll share my latkes with him. OK, probably. Definitely.
As I contemplate Isaac’s first “real” holiday season, I realize how different—and similar—his experience will be from mine as a child. I hope that we will share many of the same Chanukah traditions, but the way I spent Christmas will stand in stark contrast to the way he will. Christmas Day used to include family or Jewish friends, movies and Chinese food. I loved that tradition, and the connection it made me feel to the people I was with went much deeper than shared lo-mein.
Having agreed with my husband that we will celebrate only Jewish holidays at home, I look forward to blessing the Chanukah candles as they bring us light and warmth during the darkest days of the year with Isaac. Yet Isaac is part of an interfaith family, with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who are eager to share the joys and traditions of Christmas with him. So I also look forward to Christmas morning, which we will celebrate with Eric’s family.
They have asked whether we prefer for them not to give Isaac Christmas presents, lest gifts wrapped in poinsettia-adorned paper confuse him. We have assured them that no such danger is on the horizon. After all, I’ve received plenty of Christmas presents and gotten sick on Easter candy more than a few times, and my Jewish identity has never wavered. I know my experience was not the same as Isaac’s will be—his cousins believe in Santa Claus and his grandmother finds great comfort and inspiration in Jesus Christ—and I don’t know how he’ll reconcile the differences between his beliefs and those of his extended family. But I am confident that as he grows and learns about his Jewish heritage, he will develop the same pride in it that I have. And he will also respect and appreciate the range of beliefs and traditions that exist elsewhere. Yes, that’s asking for a lot. Maybe even for a miracle. But, hey, a great miracle happened there. Why not here?
Rachel Ross is the winner of CJP’s Family Connections December Holidays Writing Contest. She grew up in central Massachusetts, and having spent 10 years schlepping her travel menorah around the globe, returned to Boston in 2005. She and her husband live in West Roxbury, where they are raising their son with a great deal of support from their interfaith, multi-cultural family. Rachel works at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and is a member of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in Newton.