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.” 

Upcoming Events
View All Events
 
Fri
Feb
  23
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
 
Temple Beth Ami
14330 Travilah Road, Rockville MD 20850
Please join us at 7:30 pm for Erev Shabbat Services, with remarks from special guest speaker, Liz Weintraub. Liz has a long history of leadership in self-advocacy and has held many board and advisory positions at state and national organizations. Her work focuses on improving quality of life for people with disabilities. All are invited to an Oneg Shabbat following services.
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Families, Seniors, Special Needs, Maryland, Reform, Advocacy, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  

 
 
Sat
Feb
  24
9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
 
B'nai Israel Congregation
6301 Montrose Rd, Rockville MD 20852
Members of the Inclusion Committee and individuals with special needs participate in the Shabbat morning service. Our guest speaker will be Lt. Col. (Res.) Tiran Attia, Director of Special in Uniform, an innovative program sponsored by Jewish National Fund that aims to integrate young people with autism and other disabilities into the IDF. After their service, Special in Uniform helps usher its graduates toward a self-sufficient life, through employment or other meaningful societal involvement. ...
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Families, Special Needs, Maryland, Conservative, History/Education, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  

 
 
Sat
Feb
  24
9:30 AM - 1:00 PM
 
Tikvat Israel Congregation
2200 Baltimore Road, Rockville MD 20851
February is known as Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Our Inclusion Shabbat will feature “Connecting Cultures” founder Lobna (Luby) Ismail (right) will present thought-provoking ideas connecting her Muslim-American identity and culture alongside living with multiple sclerosis.
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, College (Late Teens/Early 20s), Families, Seniors, Special Needs, Maryland, Conservative, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  

 
 
Sat
Feb
  24
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
 
Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County (Congregation Beth El Preschool)
8215 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda MD 20814
Celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) at Congregation Beth El with a special multisensory Havdalah followed by a guest speaker from the Israel Defense Forces Special in Uniform Program, which helps integrate young Israelis with disabilities into the IDF. Families and individuals of all abilities will be able to participate in and enjoy this beautiful prayer experience and moving presentation. Delicious treats will be served. Sponsored by the B’ruchim Habaim and Am Is...
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Families, Special Needs, Maryland, Conservative, Children/Teens/Family, Advocacy, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), Israel, Parenting, PJ Library Co-Sponsored
Event Cost:  Free; Free

 
 
Sun
Feb
  25
10:00 AM - 12:30 PM
 
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation
7727 Persimmon Tree Lane, Bethesda MD 20817
Join Adat Shalom for A Colorful Purim! Adat Shalom Youth Group is hosting a Purim Carnival, for children in Pre-K through 6th grade! There will be a moon bounce, face painting, games, prizes, food, and fun!
Listed In:  Families, Maryland, Reconstructionist, Children/Teens/Family, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  $10 - $24; $10 for 20 Tickets

 
 
Sun
Feb
  25
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
 
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation
7727 Persimmon Tree Lane, Bethesda MD 20817
In a somewhat fanciful midrash, the Sages imagine that these three characters who appear elsewhere in Biblical narratives, were members of Pharaoh’s court when the Israelites were enslaved. Faced with the immorality of the Egyptian king’s actions, each reacted in his own way that determined his eventual fate. What do we learn about the rabbinic attitude toward involvement in confrontational politics from this small teaching and the larger lessons behind it? Rabbi Jack Moline is President of Inte...
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Seniors, Maryland, Reconstructionist, Adult Education, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  

 
 
Sun
Feb
  25
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
 
Congregation Beth Emeth
12523 Lawyers Road, Herndon VA 20171
Join in the fun, with activities for all ages. Moon bounce, carnival games, crafts for “kids” of all ages, Vashti’s Shuk one-day gift shop sale, costume contest, raffle for great prizes, kosher lunch, hamentaschen and more. Check out the day's schedule and pre-order all-you-can-play bracelets to avoid the lines at www.bethemeth.org/purim. Special Shpiel and early carnival opening for the pre-school to 1st grade set and their families, starting at 10:45 AM. Start getting your costumes ready NOW! ...
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Families, Northern Virginia, Conservative, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  

 
 
Sun
Feb
  25
12:30 PM - 2:30 PM
 
Washington Hebrew Congregation (Julia Bindeman Suburban Center)
11810 Falls Road, Potomac MD 20854
Shannon Sarna will tell you — hamantashen don’t need to be dry or crumbly, nor do they need to be filled with traditional jams and pie fillings. And she should know! Ms. Sarna is the author of the cookbook "Modern Jewish Baker: Challah, Babka, Bagels & More," the editor of the popular Jewish food blog "The Nosher," and a contributing writer on "Kveller." Born to an Italian mother who loved to bake, a Jewish father who loved to experiment, and a food chemist grandfather, loving and experimenting...
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Seniors, Maryland, Culinary, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), Social Events
Event Cost:  Free; Free

 
 
Wed
Feb
  28
5:30 PM - 8:00 PM
 
Temple Shalom
8401 Grubb Road, Chevy Chase MD 20815
Tot Purim, 5:30 PM Come in costume for a short and developmentally appropriate retelling of the Purim story, eat some hamentaschen, and sing some songs! Pizza and Salad Dinner, 6:15 PM Wizard of Oz Purim, 7:00 PM
Listed In:  Families, Maryland, Reform, Children/Teens/Family, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  Free; free

 
 
Wed
Feb
  28
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
 
Hill Havurah
212 East Capitol Street NE, Washington DC 20003
Join us on Erev Purim for a Havurah Purim Party on Wednesday, February 28th! We'll eat, drink, listen to a little megillah, and get a little silly.
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Families, Interfaith, Seniors, DC, Non-denominational, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  

 
 
Wed
Feb
  28
6:30 PM - 7:30 PM
 
Tikvat Israel Congregation
2200 Baltimore Road, Rockville MD 20851
Enjoy Purim 5778 at Tikvat Israel! ~ ~ ~ ~ On the Holiday, Feb. 28 - Mar. 1: ~ Wear Costumes ~ Buy Noodle Box Groggers ~ Enjoy Puppet Production at 6:30 pm - ALWAYS a hit with the kids and young at heart ~ Hear Megillah at 7:20 pm (with Shpiel interspersed) ~ Give Tzedakah ~ ~ ~ ~ On Sunday, Mar. 4: Enjoy Our Purim Carnival! visit www.tikvatisrael.org for details on all our holiday happenings
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, College (Late Teens/Early 20s), Families, Seniors, Teens, Maryland, Conservative, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
Event Cost:  

 
 
Sat
Mar
  3
5:30 PM - 7:30 PM
 
Temple Shalom
8401 Grubb Road, Chevy Chase MD 20815
Dear Temple Shalom Families, We are very excited for our next First Friday Shabbat Family Service. The deadline to register for our congregational potluck is Wednesday, February 28. Please register with the names of or number of people in your party and the (vegetarian, dairy, or fish) dish you are bringing. NO MEATS OR DESSERTS PLEASE! The dish should serve at least 8 people. Also, please remember to bring serving utensils! You do not need to post your phone number or email. We encourage yo...
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Families, GLBT, Seniors, Maryland, Reform, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), PJ Library Co-Sponsored, Social Events
Event Cost:  Free; Free

 
 
Sat
Mar
  3
6:30 PM - 9:00 PM
 
6601 Bradley Blvd, Bethesda MD 20817
Come and carouse with the Purimspiel Players – a musical spoof celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim. Bethesda Jewish Congregation will be way off-off-Broadway in true Sinatra style with “The Whole Megilla According to Ol Blue Eyes”. It’s BJC’s most fun event of the year and not to be missed!! Dress like you’re schmoozing with Frank, Dean and Sammy! Unleash your inner Liza! Tickets are $50 each and include dinner, drinks and entertainment. Bring your family and friends! RSVP required by...
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Seniors, Maryland, Non-denominational, Fundraising/Philanthropy, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), Social Events
Event Cost:  $25 - $50; $50

 
 
Sun
Mar
  4
9:45 AM - 12:00 PM
 
Temple Shalom
8401 Grubb Road, Chevy Chase MD 20815
Purim Carnival - Costumes Encouraged! Food & Activity Tickets 4 tickets/$1 Moon Bounce Inflatable Slide Balloon Blasters Spin Art Sand Art Crafts Games Cake Walk Prize Booth Big Raffle ...and more! Purim Cafe Popcorn, Pizza, Bagels, Snacks, Drinks Bake Sale: hamantaschen & other goodies PJ Library families receive 4 free tickets!
Listed In:  Families, Maryland, Reform, Children/Teens/Family, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), PJ Library Co-Sponsored
Event Cost:  $1 - $9; Food & Activity Tickets 4 tickets/$1

 
 
Sun
Mar
  4
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
 
Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington DC (Family Engagement at the EDCJCC)
1529 16th Street NW, Washington DC 20036
When was the last time you dressed up like a queen or king? Now is your chance – the EDCJCC’s Purim Carnival is the perfect time for children and adults to dress up and celebrate this festive annual holiday! Join us for carnival games, arts & crafts, hamantaschen (yummy Purim treats), songs and a Purim play! Don't forget your costume! We will be making sandwiches for Martha’s Table and costumes for Only Make Believe, a non-profit that creates and performs interactive theatre for children in ho...
Listed In:  Families, DC, Children/Teens/Family, Fair/Expo, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), Social Events
Event Cost:  $10 - $24; $23