Yes, it’s true. I didn’t always appreciate “the most wonderful time of the year.” But times have changed and I’ve changed.
Let’s start with Thanksgiving. Traditionally, when our kids were young, my real objection to Thanksgiving was that it’s on a Thursday, when Shabbos starts shortly after breakfast the next day. That’s a lot of kitchen time for someone who doesn’t like to cook, doesn’t like turkey, and isn’t looking for opportunities to overeat. And while celebrating an American holiday commemorating religious freedom may sound like a no-brainer, don’t forget, we were raising our kids differently than the way we were raised. Our overarching goal was to raise kids who would want to be observant, and we weren’t sure whether to emulate our friends who celebrated Thanksgiving or our friends who didn’t. I never did manage to come up with a real Thanksgiving tradition, other than to try to avoid cooking. Thank G-d, we now have adult children in town who love to cook, love turkey and don’t mind overeating in the name of religious freedom. This year, we even decided to celebrate together on Wednesday because some of us are going away; it is not lost on me that they also enjoy being together, so I happily take my assigned Thanksgiving job and remember that I can never be thankful enough.
Then comes the “other” holiday season. This one was tougher on my Jewish soul during the early years of observance. It was hard not to feel sorry for myself when I walked through the stores, knowing the words to every Christmas carol, also knowing that I couldn’t sing a Jewish song if my life depended on it. Nowadays I don’t read into things so much: if a cashier asks me about my plans for Christmas, I don’t feel the need to announce that I’m Jewish. But I’m not afraid to either. Plus, now more than ever, I appreciate every small gesture–mine included– that promotes peace on earth and good will to everybody. After all that humanity has been through, how could I not?
It’s a wonderful time of year indeed. And that’s even before I tap into the joy that’s on the Jewish calendar. The month of Kislev, which begins on December 1st this year, is imbued with the strength of Chanukah, the time when G-d performed open miracles on behalf of the Jewish nation– weak over mighty, small over many, pure over impure, light over darkness–you name it, He did it then and He continues to do it now.
And if I needed any further proof that G-d can actually make everybody happy all at the same time, this year, the first night of Chanukah, the 25th of Kislev, coincides with December 24th. Who knows? It could be the start of something wonderful.