It’s a struggle so many of us are familiar with, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m talking about the insanity that is preparing and carving out time for the Jewish holidays when the rest of the world doesn’t come close to standing still.
You’ve heard of Christmas envy? It’s not the giant tree that I want–it’s the opportunity to spend a couple of days celebrating a meaningful holiday with my family, but without having to worry about missing work or school or activities.
The holiday stress is hitting me hard this year, and I’m not even hosting anyone (though to be fair, when I’m invited places as a guest, I do tend to bring my fair share of food along). Maybe it’s because my family just took a trip in August, and my husband and I are still in the process of catching up work-wise.
Maybe it’s because my son is now in kindergarten, as opposed to Jewish preschool, which means his classes aren’t canceled every time a holiday rolls around.
Whatever it is, I’m finding myself more burdened this year than I would ever want to be—and frankly, that makes me really sad. Because I love the holidays. All of them, even the minor ones.
Sure, Rosh Hashanah might get top billing, and there’s nothing like the sweetness of apples and honey to ring in a new year. But I happen to really, really like the other holidays, too.
On Sukkot, for example, I enjoy going to other people’s sukkahs and basking in the start of fall. My favorite is when the weather turns cooler in time for the holiday, and my family and I get to huddle close in a sukkah and warm ourselves with hot soup and cozy blankets and sweatshirts. Even though we didn’t build our own sukkah, last year, my son was so excited to help my parents decorate theirs. And my parents, in turn, were delighted to stuff far too many adults and children in their very tiny sukkah to show off those decorations.
Then there’s Simchat Torah, an unquestionably joyous occasion for adults and children alike. Last year, my husband and I took our children to synagogue, where they danced in the social hall and rejoiced not so much in the Torah, but in the ample selection of sweets provided. And I was fine with that. I was also more than fine with the fact that I was giving up a much-needed work day to celebrate an important, albeit lesser-known, holiday.
And I’m fine with it this year, too. I’m just stressed.
Or maybe not stressed so much as a little sad that we Jewish folks can’t have our holidays without feeling like we’re struggling to cram them in.
Here’s another thing that’s always gotten to me: During the same one-month period, we have four or five distinct holidays (yes, I’m counting Shemini Atzeret, even though to this day I still don’t really know what we do to celebrate it) all clustered together. And then there’s nothing until winter!
It’s kind of like when you’ve just had a huge lunch, and you’re invited out to a big dinner that same day but are too full to really enjoy the next meal. I’ve always wished that the holidays could somehow be more spaced out, so that we’d get time to enjoy each one individually before jumping into the next.
Clearly, I’m not going to rewrite the Jewish calendar, so I suppose the best I can do is take a deep breath and remember why it is that I’m uprooting my schedule for the second half of September and first half of October to incorporate these holidays, convenient or not. I’m doing it because these holidays are important to me, and I want my children to look forward to them the way I did as a kid.
I’m sure that back then, my mother was stressing just as much, if not more so, than I am today–especially since she always did all the cooking. But not once did she let it show, and so I’m going to pledge to uphold the holiday spirit that the rest of the world may not recognize, but ultimately shines through this hectic but rewarding time of the year.