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Celebrating Christmas With Your Kids When You Don’t Celebrate Christmas

When I was growing up, we had an aunt that was Christian and we would go over her house a few days after Christmas. Her children had long since moved out, so she had stockings hung by the fireplace and tons of gifts under the tree for both my sister and me. Then we all had a big dinner, where my aunt introduced me to my favorite side dish— sweet potatoes inside a hollowed out orange with burnt marshmallows on top.

I’m Jewish but I never felt like I was missing out on Christmas when I was younger.

Unfortunately, my aunt moved to Florida and we no longer have a nearby relative that wants to show her nieces the awesomeness of Christmas. So I spent the holidays staying at my father’s summer house. My father was away celebrating Christmas with his wife’s family (she’s Roman Catholic), so it was just my husband and I in an empty house, cooking and trying our best to relax while entertaining a toddler and a newborn.

There was no tree, no decorations, and no gifts.

For the past few days, I watched my instagram feed fill with real-time photos of people trimming trees, wrapping gifts, receiving presents, while my daughter played with a bunch of toys she already owned that we had brought in a box.

Not to mention the weeks I spent watching people pin advent calendars, stocking stuffers and Christmas cookies on Pinterest. Or how the Elf on the Shelf slowly took over the blogosphere all the way back in October.

There is nothing like social media to show you what you are missing out on. I felt sad for Mazzy that she didn’t get to experience Christmas. I felt a little sad for US.

Sometimes I think there is nothing I would like more than to fully celebrate Christmas. But even though I know Christmas holds little religious significance for many, it still doesn’t feel right to celebrate a holiday that isn’t mine.

Last week, I took Mazzy to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree. She was disappointed she couldn’t touch it but otherwise impressed. After she took in the lights and the angels and the ice skating rink, she turned to me and asked, “Where’s the menorah?” It didn’t occur to me that she would associate Hanukkah and Christmas together at this age (especially since Hanukah has been so early the past few years), so her question caught me off guard. I had to tell her there wasn’t one there and couldn’t explain why.

Then, earlier today, we got a call from Grammy who is visiting my stepbrother and his kids in Maryland. His wife is Christian so they celebrate both holidays. Our kids got on FaceTime and after a while of toddler chit-chat, they started singing Jingle Bells.

Mazzy sang along and then when they were finished, she broke out in her own song.

“Dreidel dreidel dreidel, I made it out of clay…”

She goes to a Jewish preschool so it shouldn’t be surprising that she is learning so much about Hanukkah. I just forgot how much joy I got out of it when I was younger. Presents for eight nights, Hanukkah gelt, lighting the menorah— it felt just as important and all consuming as Christmas.

But my parents worked overtime to make sure it was special and I need to do the same.

Hanukah fell very early this year (and will again next year) and started on the same day as Mazzy’s birthday. As a result, it was a little hard to separate out what exactly we were celebrating. So maybe, I need to create some separate family traditions for Christmas time that feel festive but like our own.

Building a gingerbread house, seeing a movie, making paper cut-outs of snowflakes, baking peanut butter cookies, visiting the holiday train show in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, bundling up for a carriage ride around Central Park, giving Mazzy her first sip of hot chocolate. We could even have a big dinner with a very important side dish: sweet potatoes inside a hollowed out orange with burnt marshmallows on top.

We came back from my father’s house last night but we’ve still got a full week left of vacation.

It’s time to get this holiday started.

Read more from Ilana on Babble:

Who Said Motherhood is Beautiful

When Toddler Meets Baby: A New Sibling Story

Tis the Season When Electronics Have No Limits

Read more of Ilana’s writing at Mommy Shorts.
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