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May 29 2014

When it Comes to Jewish Holidays, Is It Wrong to Focus on the Food?

By at 3:55 pm

cheesecake

It’s no secret that Jewish holidays tend to be very food-focused. So while my toddler is only just starting to learn about the rules, back stories, and traditions of the various holidays we celebrate, he already knows that on Purim we eat hamentashen, on Passover we eat matzah, and on Rosh Hashanah we eat apples and honey.

As I started teaching him about Shavuot this week, I realized I spent more time explaining that we’re all going to get together at Savta’s house for cheesecake than I did explaining that during this holiday, the Jewish people received the Torah.

It got me thinking: When you’re teaching a child about Jewish holidays, is it necessarily a bad thing to focus on the food? Read the rest of this entry →

May 16 2014

How Traumatized Are Kids By Gruesome Bible Stories and Fairy Tales?

By at 10:02 am

gruesome-stories

On a Shabbos morning some months ago, my husband, fatigued by minor surgery he had the day before, left the service in the main sanctuary of the synagogue and went into the small, empty chapel downstairs. He lay down on his back on a pew and closed his eyes. Soon, he told me, he heard the voices of young children.

“Do you think he’s dead?”

“He might be sleeping.” Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 1 2014

Each Passover, I Celebrate The Miracle of My Growing Family

By at 12:02 pm

matza-balls

Every spring I remember; every Passover I celebrate.

I have mostly forgotten the Passover that fell right before my wedding. I don’t remember who led those seders. I don’t recall what was served for dinner. I was too busy thinking of the last minute wedding details (Did we need programs? When would the yarmulkes be ready? How did I go about changing my name?) And then I realized that I’d miss the whole holiday. I ceased thinking about my impending departure from the single world. I sipped my wine and tried to relax, and focused on what was important.

Two years later, I sat at my husband’s aunt’s table. We had been trying for a baby for a few months, without results. I wanted to take my mind off my disappointment, and enjoy the evening with my family. I poured a glass of wine in anticipation of the start of the seder. My husband’s little cousins were wrestling under the table. The older one hit his head, and the whole table shook like a California earthquake. My wine glass wobbled, tipped, and splashed all over me. The stain would stubbornly cling to my blouse after several washings. By the time I threw it out a week later, I didn’t mind. It wouldn’t have fit for long, anyway. I was pregnant. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 30 2013

How to Prepare for a Family Slumber Party

By at 2:47 pm

babe

Over the summer, we had a disastrous experience staying in a hotel room with our 2-year-old and 5-year-old.

Our 2-year-old had been in a bed for a month and we had managed to find a budget hotel with a pull-out couch so everyone had a bed. We left after dinner with the idea that we would just put the kids back to sleep when we arrived at the hotel. That worked well enough.

But, at 4 in the morning, when my son needed a glass of water, my daughter (the 2-year-old) woke up and started singing and chatting. She had her own room at home and wasn’t used to being with the rest of us. No matter how much we told our son not to respond to her, he couldn’t resist. And that was the end of sleep.

This was a frustrating experience in itself. However, it made us very nervous about our holiday travel when we would all be staying in a room together again for five nights. I injected the hope that she would be more pliable at that point, as she would be a few months shy of being 3 years old. However, we decided to prepare. Historically, the kids have had some “sleepovers” in her room with him on the floor in a sleeping bag. So, for Hanukkah, we gave her a sleeping bag of her own. We started having sleepovers in his room, too, to get her used to the idea both of being in a sleeping bag and the practices of being quiet during the night. (Thank you, Hanukkah, for giving us the extra month of training this year.) Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 11 2013

Do Children Belong at Adult Parties?

By at 11:12 am

do children belong at adult parties?

Tis the season… for parties. Hanukkah parties, Christmas parties, New Year’s parties, non-denominational “holiday” parties with vaguely thematic decorations and a mish-mash of foods to cover all the cultural bases.

Now, some bacchanalias–namely ones that begin at 9 p.m. and promise to go until “whenever”–are obviously for adults only. But, others–for instance, those held in the daytime or even late afternoon–are a bit more vague regarding the exclusivity of the guest list.

When in doubt, I always ask the host, “Is it okay to bring the kids?” If the hosts say no, I never, ever bring them. (As we determined earlier, I have no problem leaving my kids home alone.)

If the host says yes, of course, I say thank you, and bring them. And if the host says, “Yes, buuuut… we won’t have anything fun for them to do and I don’t know if they’ll like the food I’m serving,” I bring them anyway. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 14 2013

Valentine’s Day, Like Any Holiday, is Great for the Kids

By at 2:56 pm

valentine's day decorationsGrowing up, I never really thought much about Valentine’s Day. I’d sign a valentine for every kid in my class, put them in the little boxes we made, and then really enjoy eating the candy I somehow always got.

As I grew older, I pushed back on that whole St. Valentine thing. I don’t know much about the man except that he was a saint–and if he was a saint, well, that doesn’t feel so Jewish to me. I didn’t mind getting flowers or candy if someone decided to give them to me, but I wasn’t going to go searching for Valentine’s Day celebrations. It just didn’t quite feel right to me. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 28 2012

Why Sukkot is Awesome

By at 10:24 am
little girl playing in fall leaves

via Flickr/sugarfrizz

Sukkot, one of the three great pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish year, begins this Sunday evening. But poor Sukkot… she often gets lost in the great High Holiday shuffle.

For many of us, the whirlwind of Jewish holidays has wound down. We’ve stuffed ourselves silly with bagels and kugel at the break-fast. We’ve eaten our share of apples and honey, we’ve heeded the call of the shofar and tried to think about ways in which we’ll make 5773 better than 5772, and, if you’re anything like me, we’ve lost sleep shuffling our young children between grandparents’ homes, sleeping in different beds, coming back to our apartments in the city smelling like chicken, only to turn around and realize another holiday is upon us. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 27 2012

Tisha B’Av With Kids: Why I Won’t Be Mourning

By at 2:38 pm

tisha b'avTisha B’av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, starts on Saturday night.

In addition to the fall of our beloved Temples, we have much to grieve this year. The murders in Colorado. The war in Syria. The memory of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team who were kidnapped and murdered in Munich, Germany in 1972–a tragedy that will go unacknowledged during the London Olympics this year.

We have much to grieve.

Yet many of us won’t, myself included. We may post an image or brief statement on a Facebook page or Twitter feed, and then get on with our day, running errands, planning playdates, fixing meals, managing tantrums. We may take a moment to remember, but we probably won’t grieve. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 16 2011

The Great Hanukkah-Christmas Debate Roundup

By at 2:24 pm
menorah and christmas tree

Can't we all just get along?

Let’s be honest: this was a week of emotional whammies. And it’s no surprise, since the holidays are just around the corner and what is more stressful than celebratory holidays? The talk of the town seemed to be about the dos and don’ts of Christmas and Hanukkah, and here’s what we came up with:

First, Jordana Horn told us that you can’t celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. Or you can, but it isn’t logically consistent. With Hanukkah, we celebrate the Jews triumphant fight to practice Judaism–only Judaism–so throwing a Christmas tree into the mix seems to go against everything that the holiday is about. To read her full take, click here.

In the other corner is Jennifer Arrow, a self-declared athiest from a family of “Santa Claus Christians,” who wants to bring her husband’s Jewish heritage into her children’s lives. Focusing more on the culture and less on the religious background of each holiday, she finds a happy medium in serving latkes with ham. Read her full story here.

Lastly, daughter-of-a-rabbi Adina Kay-Gross recounts her fondest memories of spending Christmas with her Roman Catholic grandmother, and how it made her a better Jew. For her, compassion for everyone reigns supreme. Get the full story here.

In conclusion, you’ll never get everybody to agree on everything, but as long as people are willing to stand up for their opinions, we’ll be willing to hear them out. And that’s kind of beautiful, right?

Nov 28 2011

How to Host Large Holiday Meals (i.e. Lessons from Thanksgiving)

By at 12:50 pm

family mealI hope your Thanksgiving was as good as mine! Thank you so much for all of your help with menu ideas and general support. Below is the recipe and actual recipes for a fail-safe, easygoing Thanksgiving – print it out and feel free to use it yourself next year to come one step closer to becoming an official balaboosta. Also, it’s never too early to start planning your Passover seder. Think about using a similar menu, just substitute brisket for turkey.

TWO WEEKS AHEAD:

  1. Assign duties. It’s called Thanksgiving, not Martyrdom Day. As we all know, if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy – and you doing all the work may give everyone else something to be thankful for, but what fun is that for you? People are usually so grateful not to be hosting the event themselves that they will happily offer you assistance in the tangible forms of stuffing, sweet potatoes, salad, wine, etc. Let them! Assign parts according to your perception of the guests’ abilities (no need to say that part out loud, of course). If you or your guests have allergies/eating restrictions/kashrut concerns, spell them out so as to have no misunderstandings. And if someone is flaky, make sure they’re assigned a minor part, i.e., one that, if they didn’t show up, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
  2. Start planning out menu items.  This goes in tandem with item 1. Plan out what you want to serve and how much of it. Planning menu items can also be synced with writing out a shopping list. It’s easiest to get canned/pantry-esque stuff ahead of time.
  3. Buy copy of Leah Koenig’s Hadassah Everyday Cookbook. Great recipes that take kosher considerations in mind for kosher cooks.
  4. Arrange for a babysitter and reserve a table to go out to dinner Saturday after Thanksgiving. Yes, you will have eaten your weight in stuffing already and you will have a refrigerator full of leftovers. But you deserve to be rewarded for everything you’re about to do. Trust me.
  5. Order turkey. Fresh is ideal if possible.

ONE WEEK AHEAD: Read the rest of this entry →

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