This Year, I’m Half-Assing Hanukkah – Kveller
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This Year, I’m Half-Assing Hanukkah


via Getty Images

Look, there’s a reason just about every Jewish kid answers the question, “What do you love most about being Jewish?” with an ecstatic “Hanukkah!” (Followed by “the food,” naturally.) If you’re a Jewish American kid, Hanukkah is like a week-long winter festival of fried sugary foods, gambling (for chocolate, of course) and gifts. But behind the rush of sparkling candlelight and spinning dreidels, I find myself wondering: What about the moms who make it all happen? 

Lately, I’ve become more disillusioned by the way winter holidays are celebrated in America. Having been in an interfaith relationship, my child and I have celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas — and sure, the glittery lights, decorations and Target merch (for both holidays) has held its appeal. The music is pretty fantastic, too (from “Puppy for Hanukkah” to the many Christmas songs ironically written and performed by Jews). 

However, now that my kid is getting older, I’m getting less enthused about the glimmering consumerism. Maybe I’m turning into a Hanukkah Grinch, but I’m finding myself ambivalent about the greater commercialization of Hanukkah: On the one hand, it’s always exciting to see Jewish representation when you’re pushing a cart through your favorite store. On the other, Hanukkah is not the Jewish equivalent of Christmas — and I don’t want it to become a stressful week-long version of Christmas that drains my energy, money and general will to live. 

Do you know how many hours I’ve spent in the past, poring over Amazon lists of the best toys of the year by age group? And for what — just to have even more tchotchkes my kid will forget about in a week, to litter my living room floor? My kid doesn’t need more stuff, and I don’t need more stress. 

Even though Hanukkah is traditionally not a major holiday (it’s not even biblical, like its heavy hitter cousins, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), I still find myself falling into the trap of American mom expectations: Everything has to be perfect, planned out to the nines and Instagrammable as fuck. (If you don’t end the eight nights with a perfectly curated feed of rosy-cheeked children beaming into the camera from behind a Hanukkah menorah, the gleam of candlelight reflected in their eyes, did Hanukkah even happen this year?) It feels like, if I opt out, I’m opting out of being a good mom, or partaking in communal mom culture. And let’s face it — being a mom is already pretty isolating in a lot of ways, so it’s not easy to opt out of the validation of people commenting about how cute your family’s matching Hanukkah outfits amidst lots of cheerful, life-affirming emojis. 

Honestly, it’s a love-hate relationship. I want a more balanced version of it, one that takes the enjoyment of mothers into consideration at least as much as everyone else’s. Moms have been running on one day of oil for far longer than eight measly nights, especially over the last few years of pandemic life. So perhaps in addition to withdrawing from all the pressure to have an over-the-top Perfect™ holiday, I can also figure out how to prioritize what would bring me joy and meaning, as well — like forgoing standing for an hour frying things in the kitchen to instead sit quietly by the glowing Hanukkah candles, reflecting on the fiery power I have to choose to be myself as a full person, not compartmentalized exclusively as a mother.  

So this year, I’m half-assing Hanukkah. I’m approaching it like a scientific experiment to see if the world actually does end as seems to be tacitly emphasized in mom-expectation culture. I don’t want to obsessively plan out activities, outings and gifts — I just want to do a simple tradition special to my son and me (eight nights of thrifted books to read together) and go with the flow for the rest. Will we watch “A Rugrats Chanukah” (multiple times) whilst snuggled up on the couch together? Absolutely. Will I be wearing makeup with my hair done, ready for lots of holiday photos? Unlikely, but I will take some photos of my kid and my cats near the Hanukkah menorahs (the cats will be blurry and my kid will be making a weird face in all of them). Will I be making sufganiyot with the jelly injector I bought last year, starry eyed with the dream of making them from scratch? No, fuck that. (Our Publix bakery has awesome jelly donuts.) Will I be throwing a Hanukkah party? No, but will gladly accept invitations to the ones I actually want to go to. Will we forgo lots of material gifts of toys that I would find myself stepping on in my living room a week later, to instead just spend quality time with the people we love? 100%. My perfect-imperfect-Hanukkah goals this year are largely a mix of being cozy, feeling connected and just cutting myself some slack.

Hanukkah is all about pushing back against repression to find personal and communal freedom. As a mother, I want to highlight this theme by pushing back against the repressive and confining social expectations placed on primary parental caregivers. Move aside, Maccabees: This year is about Mamalehs rebuilding the Temple of our mental health, wellbeing and personhood. Forget trying to get “gimmel” every time we spin our dreidels. This year, “hay” is the half-pot, half-assed letter that represents chilling the fuck out and letting go of our obsession with perfection.

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