There’s No Such Thing as the December Dilemma

by Laurel Snyder
reprinted with permission from Interfaith Family Network Blog

This time of year, I often find myself answering questions about the “December Dilemma.” As an intermarried-child-of-intermarriage, people want to know how I handle this tricky season, when Christmas and Hanukkah compete for our attention, and pine trees threaten to darken our doors. After all, I’ve been experiencing this for two generations myself. Haven’t I learned something in all that time?

I do have an answer, actually, but it’s a radical notion—that in fact, there’s no such thing as the December Dilemma. Or rather, that this is a problem we’ve created for ourselves, out of anxiety and insecurity.

If this is the case, the obvious solution to our problem is to release that anxiety and turn our attention to enjoying our own distinct holiday, to making Hanukkah a resonant, meaningful season. Just as we do with Passover or Sukkot. When we aren’t measuring ourselves against jingle bells and candy canes.

But how do we do that?

Let me tell you a story.

For years I tried to make Hanukkah appealing to my kids. Since they often spend Christmas with their Catholic grandparents, and receive copious gifts as a result, my instinct was to try to match that particular kind of childhood joy. I didn’t concoct a Jewish Santa, but I did spend money. I bought and wrapped loads of presents, filled bowls with gelt and dreidels. I bought twinkly lights shaped like stars of David. I wanted Hanukkah to outshine Christmas in my children’s memories.

You know what? It didn’t work. Not because the presents weren’t appreciated, but because that’s not the point of Hanukkah. That store-bought abundance* didn’t feel organic or authentic to anyone. Eight days is a long time to slog through that brassy sort of cheer, and also, only Santa is Santa. Pale comparisons are just that. No menorah will dim the presence of a tree in the corner, or the inundation our kids feel from the outside world—the endcap displays at Target, the aisles of red and green candy at the grocery store. Every year we all feel a little let down by Hanukkah. Don’t we?

So last year, I asked myself a question—why does this holiday matter? I asked myself what there was to love about Hanukkah. If it isn’t a runner-up week of gifts and gelt, what’s the actual point? I tried to remember what had mattered to me about Hanukkah, as a kid. What were my best Hanukkah memories?

When I did, I found that every single one was a memory of the dinner table or the kitchen. Of my dad grating his knuckles year after year, making latkes. Of my sisters and brothers teasing each other when we unwrapped boring gifts like dried fruit or clothes. Of the smoke alarm going off. Of drinking wine and idly spinning dreidels on a crumb-covered tablecloth, as we caught up with each other’s college-age lives.

You see, the beauty of Hanukkah is this—if we actually celebrate it, it affords us eight consecutive nights to slow down and focus on the little things, the personal, the mundane. Hanukkah forces us to look into each other’s eyes every night for a week, and connect. To wait until the candles have burned down to wash the dishes or check email.

This is a miracle, honestly, in today’s world. What other holiday accomplishes that sort of slowdown? There’s no pressure to perform Hanukkah. There’s no long synagogue service or requirement that you take time off school or work.  You don’t have to dress up or make a fancy meal. You only have to spend an hour every night loving your family and friends fully. Being aware of them.

So last year, we did something radical at our house. We opted out of the December Dilemma. We didn’t spend money. We didn’t throw a party. We didn’t travel. We didn’t compete with Christmas at all, and the result was mindblowing. It was actually a little bit painful to register the shock in my kids’ faces when neither my husband nor I hurried away from dinner to make a phone call or wrap up a little work.

We skipped cub scouts and book club that week. We didn’t go the gym. If homework hadn’t been done by dinner, it wasn’t going to get done. For eight nights, we prioritized only each other, and it was moving to see how deeply that resonated with my kids—to see that they totally got it. We played dumb board games and ate popcorn. One night we watched a movie together, and I know it sounds cheesy, but I can’t remember a calmer, happier week in our household. The kids have been talking about it ever since. They can’t wait for this year.

Here’s the thing—you can only lose a battle you choose to fight. Christmas won’t stop being Christmas, whether you have a tree or not. Christmas won’t stop being an abundant overblown season of candy wrapped in tinsel. If the way we measure joy is in candy, Christmas wins every time.

But that’s only one kind of currency, and if we measure joy in calm pleasure, in togetherness, in slowness, in conversation and low-stress fun, Hanukkah resonates differently. It matters. It becomes real.

Think about light—there are fireworks in the world, and then there are fireplaces. Both are illuminating. But they meet different needs. If you measure the cheery glow of a fireplace against the bombastic blaze of fireworks, you’ll be disappointed. But if you stare deep into the hearth, accept it on its own terms, and warm your hands, you can’t help but see its distinct beauty. You can’t help but recognize how much you need it.

*the author would like to recognize that plenty of Christians struggle with this issue too, and that for many people,  the real spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with the  “holiday shopping season.” 

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Sun
Nov
  18
8:45 AM - 2:00 PM
 
Temple Rodef Shalom
2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church  VA 22043
Ready, Set, Go to the Chanukah Bazaar Sponsored by Women of TRS Sun Nov 11, 18 and Dec 2, 8:45 AM-2:00 PM; Tues Nov 13, 20, 27, 5:30 -7:30 PM; Wed Nov 14, 28, 4:15-6:30 PM Everything you could possibly want to celebrate the Festival of Lights will be on display in the Grand Foyer! Choose from a large assortment of menorahs, Safed and beeswax candles, dreidels, books, crafts and toys, party goods and nut-free gelt. Hot items such as Chanukah socks and slippers plus fun children’s menorahs have b...
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Tue
Nov
  20
5:30 PM - 7:30 PM
 
Temple Rodef Shalom
2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church  VA 22043
Ready, Set, Go to the Chanukah Bazaar Sponsored by Women of TRS Sun Nov 11, 18 and Dec 2, 8:45 AM-2:00 PM; Tues Nov 13, 20, 27, 5:30 -7:30 PM; Wed Nov 14, 28, 4:15-6:30 PM Everything you could possibly want to celebrate the Festival of Lights will be on display in the Grand Foyer! Choose from a large assortment of menorahs, Safed and beeswax candles, dreidels, books, crafts and toys, party goods and nut-free gelt. Hot items such as Chanukah socks and slippers plus fun children’s menorahs have b...
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Sat
Nov
  24
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
 
Congregation Adat Reyim
6500 Westbury Oaks Court, Springfield VA 22152
Join us for a family friendly shabbat where we encourage preschoolers and young children to celebrate the shabbat with us. Friendly songs, enjoyable music, and a welcoming atmosphere at Congregational Adat Reyim.
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Tue
Nov
  27
5:30 PM - 7:30 PM
 
Temple Rodef Shalom
2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church  VA 22043
Ready, Set, Go to the Chanukah Bazaar Sponsored by Women of TRS Sun Nov 11, 18 and Dec 2, 8:45 AM-2:00 PM; Tues Nov 13, 20, 27, 5:30 -7:30 PM; Wed Nov 14, 28, 4:15-6:30 PM Everything you could possibly want to celebrate the Festival of Lights will be on display in the Grand Foyer! Choose from a large assortment of menorahs, Safed and beeswax candles, dreidels, books, crafts and toys, party goods and nut-free gelt. Hot items such as Chanukah socks and slippers plus fun children’s menorahs have b...
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Wed
Nov
  28
4:15 PM - 6:30 PM
 
Temple Rodef Shalom
2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church  VA 22043
Ready, Set, Go to the Chanukah Bazaar Sponsored by Women of TRS Sun Nov 11, 18 and Dec 2, 8:45 AM-2:00 PM; Tues Nov 13, 20, 27, 5:30 -7:30 PM; Wed Nov 14, 28, 4:15-6:30 PM Everything you could possibly want to celebrate the Festival of Lights will be on display in the Grand Foyer! Choose from a large assortment of menorahs, Safed and beeswax candles, dreidels, books, crafts and toys, party goods and nut-free gelt. Hot items such as Chanukah socks and slippers plus fun children’s menorahs have b...
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Fri
Nov
  30
1:15 PM - 2:45 PM
 
Gesher Jewish Day School
4800 Mattie Moore Court, Fairfax VA 22030
Monthly Playgroup for Children Ages 0 - 5 Open play for first 45 minutes and then join in the All School Kabbalat Shabbat, singing, dancing, and Birthday of the Month celebration. RSVP requested
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Fri
Nov
  30
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
 
Washington Hebrew Congregation
3935 Macomb St, NW, Washington DC 20016
Join us for a fun, fulfilling, engaging service perfect for families with young children (or grandchildren). We begin our evening with an engaging, interactive Tot Shabbat service that focuses on teaching Jewish prayers, traditions, and rituals through songs, stories, and art project. A family-style, family-friendly dinner follows the service.
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Event Cost:  Free; Free

 
 
Fri
Nov
  30
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
 
Washington Hebrew Congregation
3935 Macomb St, NW, Washington DC 20016
Led by our cantors, Shirei Shabbat is a spiritual, musical, and uplifting way to end the week. WIth upbeat tunes, some new music, and a little more English, this "Shabbat of Songs" is certain to engage and delight.
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Nov 30 - Dec 1
Multiple times available
 
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation
7727 Persimmon Tree Lane, Bethesda MD 20817
Joey Weisenberg, a multi-instrumental musician, singer, and composer, is the Creative Director of Hadar’s Rising Song Institute, which seeks to empower Jewish community building through music and the author of Building Singing Communities, and The Torah of Music (Fall 2017) winner of a National Jewish Book Award. Join Joey and the Clergy of Adat Shalom for a weekend of music, learning, and spiritual reflection. Friday, November 30th - Dinner at 6:30 PM (RSVP Required!) ...
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Nov 30 - Dec 1
Multiple times available
 
Bethesda Jewish Congregation
6601 Bradley Boulevard, Bethesda MD 20817
Jewish Renewal Shabbaton Weekend It will be a weekend like no other as we bring a 21st century focus to centuries-old spiritual traditions. Sing, pray, and learn with Rabbis Andrew Hahn and David Evan Markus, two of the Jewish Renewal movement’s most innovative leaders, and Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer, Bethesda Jewish Congregation’s spiritual leader. Rabbi David Evan Markus is a spiritual leader based in New York. He serves as Deputy Chief Counsel in the New York State Judiciary and is a syndicate...
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Event Cost:  $10 - $24; Sabbath service and dinner are free

 
 
Fri
Nov
  30
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
 
Temple Rodef Shalom
2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church VA 22043
Our Shabbat Evening Service begins in the Sanctuary at 6:30 PM. Find Rodef 2100 in the back right to accommodate as many of us as possible. Beginning at 7:30 pm, our young professionals group will gather for cocktails and a delicious, kosher style, dinner. Celebrate your joys and share your oy’s as we welcome Shabbat together. Contact: Nathan Smuckler, nsmuckler@templerodefshalom.org, 703.676.3840 Cost: $10.00 Regular registration closes Friday, November 23 Space Available registration until ...
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Sun
Dec
  2
8:45 AM - 2:00 PM
 
Temple Rodef Shalom
2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church  VA 22043
Ready, Set, Go to the Chanukah Bazaar Sponsored by Women of TRS Sun Nov 11, 18 and Dec 2, 8:45 AM-2:00 PM; Tues Nov 13, 20, 27, 5:30 -7:30 PM; Wed Nov 14, 28, 4:15-6:30 PM Everything you could possibly want to celebrate the Festival of Lights will be on display in the Grand Foyer! Choose from a large assortment of menorahs, Safed and beeswax candles, dreidels, books, crafts and toys, party goods and nut-free gelt. Hot items such as Chanukah socks and slippers plus fun children’s menorahs have b...
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Sun
Dec
  2
10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
 
Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (JCC of Northern Virginia)
8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax VA 22031
Watch your child's eyes fill with wonder as we set before them a wide variety of craft supplies to create works of art limited only by their imaginations. Whether they create art for the home or to give as Chanukah present - watch as their creativity runs wild! Celebrate Chanukah with a Sufganiyot (donuts) Decorating Bar; PJ Library stories, and of course dreidel games! Fee: $8 per child/ $6 child member Note: 12 months and under are FREE
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Sun
Dec
  2
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
 
Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim (Congregation Har Tzeon Agudath Achim)
1840 University Blvd West, Silver Spring MD 20902
Join Katherine Janus Kahn, illustrator of book series' Sammy Spider, and The Ziz at HTAA for baking Chanukah cookies, and a special Sammy Spider book reading and presentation! Bring all your family friends, and have a cookie with your bubbie! For details, contact Adrienne@htaa.org
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Event Cost:  Free; Free

 
 
Sun
Dec
  2
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
 
Temple Rodef Shalom
2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church VA 22043
Season of Lights...and Music! A Rodef Arts Cultural Series Concert Chanukah is not only full of delicious foods, celebration and menorah lighting, but it’s also filled with music! Join our Cantors and band, along with Shir Joy, Shir Harmony and Kol Machar, as they welcome in Chanukah in song and light, followed by a congregational Chanukah candle lighting and cookie reception! Contact: Josephine LeBeau, cultural@templerodefshalom.org Presented by the Music and Performing Arts Committee of Tem...
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