Minnesota Mamaleh: The Hanukkah Mom

Why yes. Yes my kids *did* stamp themselves with Hanukkah this morning. Thanks for asking.

The turkey? The traveling? The wine? The two-on-three defense? I have no idea which of these gems did us in, but we spent the Sunday after Thanksgiving downstairs playing, typing and football-ing away. In our pajamas.

Amidst the fun, the games, the mess, the tears, the toy-grabbing and the name-calling…

I’ll just give you a minute here to paint that picture in your mind. Jealous, aren’t you? And just to seal the deal? My better four-fifths were all sneezing-sniffling-and-coughing their way through the afternoon. Good times.

…I miraculously heard the phone ringing over the din that is my family when we’re all in the same room together. Something strangely social came over me (the holiday spirit, perhaps?), and I answered it.

And lucky that I did because it was a dear friend with a dear reminder: We were taking our oldests to a little play. That afternoon.

So Kayli and I pulled it together (read: got dressed) and went. We rode in the quiet car. Took a picture or two. Smiled and talked about the characters. The story line. The Christmas theme.

Did you just hear the gut (and ear!) wrenching sound of a turn table scratching?

It probably does sound a little odd that I took my girl on a special outing to a Christmas play just days before Hanukkah started. We saw Junie B., Jingle Bells Batman Smells! I love the character. I’ve read most of the books in the series and I seriously can’t wait to share them with Kayli. I’m weird about books that way. It’s the reading teacher in me. This is the play that happened to be playing when my friend’s and my schedules magically aligned. But honestly, the fact that it was a Christmas play? Didn’t bother me. At all.

Because Hanukkah isn’t the Jewish Christmas. There’s no comparing or choosing. One is our holiday. In our hearts. And in our home. The rest? Is enjoying. Experiencing. Enriching.

The path to religion is wide and loooong. But the beginning of that journey is all about hand-holding. When we’re young our parents create, drive and do the whole religion sha-bang for us. Simply put, we are what we are born into. But it seems to me that the end goal is to find a way to personalize our religion and our spirituality. Make it about what we want to do and be, and feel in our hearts is a good fit. Rather than doing just because it’s all that we know. So being exposed to other people’s traditions and practices? That’s just the icing.

Just this morning I went into Kayli’s classroom. You know, to be the Hanukkah Mom. I told the Hanukkah story using legos and little people. We pretended to make latkes and light candles. I shared my children’s shiny new silver menorahs with their sleek lines and my fancy, old, gold one with it’s twists and curves that could never ever be described as sleek, but is filed with memories and is perfect for me. And then, I sat back.

And I took it all in. All of the little faces, skin colors, religions and stories huddled together. So many eyes making sense of what I stumbled over to share. A little girl wearing a burka and playing dreidel. And a little boy with a Spanish accent asking for the recipe to make the (store-bought. Definitely store-bought) gelt. And all I could think and feel and know is how could this learning, sharing, experiencing be anything but pure? And fabulous? And right?

It’s not confusing, it’s learning. Different holidays for different people. And the learning is at its best when it’s mutual.

Our first night of Hanukkah was "kid hosted." Check out the "appetizer course" mac-n-cheese and *two* kinds of juice!

Brody lighting his candles with a little help from Daddy

First night gifts: matching jammys. Go Vikings?

And gelt. There's always room for one more piece of gelt.

You might not be able to tell in this picture, but I'm so kicking all of their butts at dreidel.

Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley

My kids know that Hanukkah is our holiday because our house is over-flowing with it. The candles, the dreidels, the presents, the latkes, the sufganiyot. And of course, the books.

I try to add one new Hanukkah book (and one new dreidle!) to their collection every year. This year the fab Kar Ben Publishing sent me a copy of Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley to review.

We read this rhyming book overandoverandover again. My kids enjoyed the illustrations and marveled at the “just like me” factor. But what got me? Was this refrain: “Sometimes it only takes a few who know what’s right, and do it, too.”

Because that’s just so…vulnerably perfect. And true. Maybe it does start with just one person. One person to learn from, appreciate and celebrate another. One person to not get bent out of shape about things that are unknown. Or new. And soon we can just be friends. Shoulder to shoulder. Respectfully different. Because that, we can all stand behind, right?

On Hanukkah Eve, I was anything but prepared. I didn’t have a single present wrapped. Not a one. What I did have was anticipation. Because I do have mad dreidel skills and I couldn’t wait to use them. Jason fries a mean latke and I was excited to have a crispy one. Or two. I like them best with sour cream, since you asked. And I was also really excited to share a little bit of Hanukkah with you. After I told one of my sweetest friends about this she asked, “Is this how all Jewish people do it or just you?” We laughed about that question, but I can own that she was so-very-right.

I will admit to taking my own spin on all things really. But shouldn’t religion and spirituality be unique? And personal? Shouldn’t you be able to identify and pick your strokes right out from the crowd? I think so.

So Happy Hanukkah to those of you who celebrate it. Here’s to more candles, latkes and gelt than we could ever know what to do with. And if you don’t celebrate Hanukkah? I’d be happy to share a few latkes with you. Jason’ll cook and I’ll save you a crispy one. Shall I pass the sour cream, the apple sauce or a little bit of both?

*Thank you Kar Ben Publishing for a free copy of Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley*

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About Galit Breen

Galit Breen was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. She has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. Her book, Kindness Wins, is a simple no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. You can learn more about Galit by visiting TheseLittleWaves.com.
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