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Archive for the ‘christmas’ Category

Asher is indulging in something I wouldn’t call his favourite holiday tradition, but it certainly is his most common: getting sick.

He likes to mix it up and generally stays away from common, boring illnesses. At 10 months, he developed a raging fever and a red, blotchy rash over most of his body that had every doctor in the office in to stare at him, but was never diagnosed. A year later, he pulled out the big guns and developed pneumonia. He let us off easy with pink eye one year, and didn’t even pass it on to anyone. And he did go with that old stand-by – the flu – to miss his Hanukkah concert when he was in kindergarten.

This year, he is back to keeping mystery in our lives, and I am not amused. I declared our own personal snow day yesterday (37 cms of snow! A foot and 2 inches for the non-metrically-inclined). Asher complained that his final house league soccer game was at lunch time and they needed his skills in defense, then lay down on the couch and pretty much didn’t move for the rest of the day. He had deep, dark circles under his eyes and I figured a couple late nights on the weekend were catching up to him, and that explained the headache he complained of, and the achy limbs.

So, of course, he’s no better today. He’s completely pale except for the dark circles, has no energy and the same headache. No fever. Mystery. And a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning.

If I celebrated Christmas, I’d be freaking out about now, being stuck in the house with a sick boy.

At least he’s doing this now and will hopefully be better for our far more fun Christmas tradition. For years now, we have been going up to the cottage and on Christmas day, we go tubing at a nearby ski hill. At first, we just went with my brother and sister-in-law and their three kids. Since then, it has expanded to include several other families and this year, our group has so far reached 11 children and 8 adults planning to go.

Tubing is always fun, but the particular enjoyment of doing it on Christmas day is that there are no line-ups anywhere, as it is just us and a few Hasidic Jews from the area.

Okay, obligatory apres-big-snowstorm photos:

Jasper discovered he can dig real holes in this stuff!

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The plow made such a big snow bank that Boo can slide down the middle of the lawn to the end and hit the bank instead of the street.

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Snow, snow and more snow!

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Our side door. My compost bin and extra garbage bins are under there too.

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Master of all he surveys.

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Snowy happiness!

Snow! It snowed. Just like Mary said happened last time, it snowed on Boxing Day. I’m sitting, looking out the big front windows at piles of fluffy snow everywhere, just like in the pictures below of the road. We had a great pile of ski-crazy children wake up happy this morning.

I am now sitting in peace and quiet, with just Boo and my sister-in-law, R. J, his brother and parents, Maya, Asher and my three nephews have just piled into two minivans and headed for the ski hills. Yay for all of us!

It wasn’t pretty, mind you. We found out we forgot J’s ski suit, Asher’s hat for under his helmet and his poles and Maya’s grade five ski pass (the Canadian ski council gives them out for free for 10-year-olds). Most of the kids’ mitts from yesterday were still wet, since the parents very foolishly thought that saying, “Put wet mitts in front of the fire to dry,” 300 times would actually cause the kids to put their wet mitts in front of the fire. Ha! They thought we said, 300 times, leave your wet mitts in a heap by the door, preferably in a puddle. We have back-ups, but not that many.

But now they are all gone and we have relative quiet (still got Boo) for a few hours.

Yesterday turned out well too.

In fact, it was amazing. Really, really good. Every Christmas, we take the kids tubing near here. I can barely find words to describe how much fun it is. First, unlike skiing, the whole family can go, even Boo. And when you slide down the hill, you can link up the tube by holding onto each other’s ropes and go down in a big group, thereby adding speed and fun to the slide. On Christmas, there are no line-ups at all, so we just pop up and down. More than once, my kids have said that even if they celebrated Christmas, this is the way they’d want to spend it, because it is just such an enjoyable family experience.

This year was the best yet. There was actually enough snow to go sliding, because you need very little to get going on an inner tube, it was just cold enough but not very cold, and very few other people had thought the conditions would be good, because we’ve never seen it so empty. Also, not only where the cousins here too, but three other families joined us on the hill, making us a group of 26 people. We had 10 children between the ages of 6 and 10, with a smattering of others too. But with the hill so quiet and so many kids, both adults and children enjoyed the kids’ unprecedented freedom and independence.

We stayed for hours. The kids would have happily stayed longer, but the adults were wiped. I went to bed at 9 pm.

It is the great white north after all! I hope everyone else’s Christmas went as well as ours did.

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For those of you who don’t write blogs, I should explain something. I have a page that tells me how many people look at each post (not who, just how many) and if I have new comments. It also tells me how people reach my site – what link they click on or search string they use. So I know a number of people have found my post complaining how early Christmas stuff comes out by searching “Sleigh bells song” and “December dilemma” brought quite a few people to that post. Some of the searches are stranger, but the weirdest so far is “Why are Jews messing up the holidays”.

I didn’t actually write about that, merely Jews, holidays and – unconnected – how my children mess stuff up sometimes, but that is all it took. Curious, I plugged the same sentence into google and noticed an article about how Debra Messing, the actress, celebrates the holidays came up before my blog did. That guy was looking hard for his answer, it seems.

I find it disturbing, obviously. For one, he (I’m assuming it is a ‘he’) isn’t concerned about Jews messing up Christmas, but all the holidays. What, we aren’t allowed to celebrate anything? And two, I’d have to argue that most Jews don’t care how anyone else celebrates their holidays and that most of the initiative, like the “holiday” tree from Boston comes from well-meaning but misguided attempts by Christians to include Jews and other minorities.

Maybe he’s miffed by the Lubavitch rabbi who wanted the Seattle airport to put a menorah beside their Christmas trees so badly he threatened to sue them. When the airport responded by removing the trees, he backed down, since what he wanted was the menorah up, not the trees down, so the trees when back up. He did create quite a little fuss, but I’d still argue that he is an exception, not the rule.

I also find it bizarre that the guy actually though he could find an answer, searching that way, like he’d find a guide on some Jewish web site “How to wreck the holidays.”

I have an answer, though, in case he comes back. This is why: because we exist. Clearly someone who thinks Jews are messing up the holidays wishes that ‘the holidays’ just meant Christmas and he didn’t have to worry about anyone else wanting to do things any different way.

Man, it sucks having to accommodate differences. Why can’t everyone be just like me? Me, me, me.

This blogging thing is turning out to be a lot more interesting than I expected.

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Speaking of holidays and Jews, I made latkes last night without even using a recipe, and they were amazing. Since J can’t eat wheat (he’s celiac), we have always used a recipe without matzah meal. Every year, we lose the recipe and have to track it down again. It isn’t easy, since most have matzah in them and some throw in other stuff, like baking powder. Some people even toss in zucchini or carrots, which is totally missing the point.

Anyway, this year, I couldn’t find it, but I figured really, how hard can it be? Potatoes, onions, eggs, salt and pepper. I winged it. They were, as I think I mentioned, amazing. I had to beat the children back with a hot spatula to stop them from eating them all before their Bubby and Zaidy showed up for dinner. The secret, by the way, is lots and lots of oil. Just accept that it is bad for you and only comes around once a year and go nuts. Yum!

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How does this blogging thing work when you want to respond to comments made on your blog? Add more comments, or write stuff here? I’m going with writing it here, but I may be breaking some rule of netiquette.

Pamela – I’m glad the 13 year thing helped you too. It does make a big difference, doesn’t it? I don’t think it matters, as Zed points out, whether it is exactly 13 years or not – you can start counting from wherever you please, from whenever you first felt Jewish. But it is nice to give yourself that break and not think that you must be instanta-Jew the moment you convert. Taking on a culture and religion you weren’t born into is a daunting task, and one no conversion course is ever going to be up to on its own.

I do actually remember the exact moment I realized I felt Jewish. It was during the winter holidays, but I can’t remember if it 12 or 13 years ago. We were up at my to-be-in-laws cottage and two things happened within the space of a day to clue me in. One morning, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on the door and as J went to answer it, I yelled down, “Tell them we’re Jewish so not to come back.” And then realized that I was not, in fact, Jewish. That night, we were having dinner at a neighbour’s house and they had couple of guests. Talk came around to the holidays and one guest commented on how she had no interest in Christmas, then she turned to me and said, “No offense.” No offense? What the hell did that mean? Why would I care what she thought about Christmas? Then the deeper meaning hit, that she had singled me out, that she considered me different than the rest of them. I felt the same, but other people didn’t percieve me as the way I felt, and I realized it was time to formalize for the outside world what I felt on the inside. Hey, Pam and Zed, if you are still reading – when did you first know?

I never liked the commercialize messages either, and one of the biggest things I’m happy about skipping by not celebrating Christmas is the list kids write to Santa. It now strikes me as incredibly greedy – writing down a list of demands. (I never really saw it that way as a kid, of course, and never expected to get everything on it, either.) I can totally understand its usefulness as a tool in getting gifts your kids will like – I always find that quite the crap-shoot – but I really like that my kids don’t get to ask for gifts. They just get what they get.

That is the part I’m happiest to get rid off. But I also have to admit, and I won’t tell my kids this until they grow up, that while I think both Hanukkah and Christmas are both great holidays for kids and both have their good aspects and drawbacks, I sometimes feel a little badly for my kids that they won’t ever feel that outrageous, hysterical sense of excitment I felt when I was a kid on Christmas eve. My kids get very excited about Hanukkah, but I don’t see in them the level of excitment I had when I was their age. I’d stay awake half the night, too excited to sleep and sometimes I’d hear Santa downstairs! Oh My God, Santa is downstairs!!!! (Of course, it was the parents putting the gifts out, but I never went down to find out.) I heard the reindeer on the roof too. (My own imagination.) And the next morning, coming down and seeing all those presents – there really is nothing like it for sheer material happiness for a kid.

I’m inspired. Things I miss about Christmas:

Chosing the tree, the smell of the tree, the lights on the tree in the evening, the hysterical excitment of a pile of gifts under the tree, Christmas crackers, believing in a guy who comes down the chimney with gifts, some Christmas carols.

Things I don’t:

A list to Santa, sitting your kid in Santa’s lap, madly wandering the mall in search of the right gift for everyone on my list, trying to figure out who should be on the list and who shouldn’t, the sinking feeling when someone gives me a gift who I haven’t gotten a gift for, sending out Chrismas cards.

Things I love about Hanukkah: the look on my kids’ faces when they first light the candles, all the menorahs lined up and lit, latkes, gelt, that it lasts eight days, that we only give gifts to kids.

Despite not having that mad sense of excitment, I don’t think my kids are in any way deprived by not having Christmas (especially because they do have it to some degree, because they celebrate with their cousins and grandparents). In fact, I think that when you weigh out the whole year, they are luckier than I was as a kid, because they get more holidays and more excuses to spend time with family and they get to be Jewish – and I think being Jewish is a Good Thing.

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Yummy day!

It was Cookie Decorating Day yesterday. The kids were so wound up that when we finished I threw them in the basement for a while to run the sugar off. (I’ve heard differing opinions on whether sugar really does make kids nuts, and my experience yesterday suggests it makes 2/3rds of your children nuts. Boo was perfectly calm.)

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(See the lovely Hanukkah decorations on the window? They’ve been there since last Hanukkah. Boo loved them and had a fit whenever I tried to take them down.)

Yogamum says she hates making sugar cookies. I was shocked! I love making them, even though my back, neck and arms are killing me, I’m exhausted and my house is a disaster. I agree with her that they are hard for a perfectionist to handle, but it has been good therapy. I still get overly nuts when they don’t put the cookie cutters as close as possible to each other in the dough, thereby not maximixing each roll-out of dough. I’d be much happier if they just left me alone to do that part, but they insist on being involved.

The real fun starts when the cookies are baked. I cover the table with wax paper, make icing in several colours (white, blue, purple and green this year) and put bowls of many decorations. We went a bit nuts at a bulk food place that just opened up this year, so we had sprinkles of many colours, mini-M&Ms, butterscotch chips along with chocolate ones. It was sugar heaven. It took a couple of years for me to get over the icing everywhere and the chaos of their decorating, but now I am totally into it.

When we were at the store, Maya tried to talk me into letting her buy a candy stick and I refused, telling her she’d be eating plenty of junk later. As we just finished laying all the sprinkles and bowls of icing out, she actually said, “Remember when you said I’d be having something junky later?” Yes. “What’s so junky about this?”

Huh?

This was the resulting conversation: What are the sprinkles made of? Sugar. And the chocolate chips? Sugar? Yes, and the icing? Sugar. And what are the cookies we just made called? Um … sugar cookies?

I think she got the point.

Boo, working hard:

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Some of the finished works of art:

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Below, we have snowman, menorah and a Christmas tree, in honour of Oma and Grampa, who celebrate Christmas. If they are really lucky, there might actually be some left by the time we go to their house to decorate their tree.

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This is the counter after we were finished. Even those who know me have to admit it is messier than normal.

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Now comes the only part of cookie-making I don’t like: the incessent begging for cookies for lunch, breakfast, dinner and snacks. The begging for two cookies when allowed one, or three when allowed two. Maybe I should just eat them all now and save myself the hassles of all that begging.

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On a separate note, it is nice to see more comments showing up, but it means I’ve encountered another newbie blogger problem. WordPress has a spam catcher that oh-so kindly snags any comment it thinks is spam, which seems to be pretty anyone new. I have spotted most of them and unspammed them, but today I noticed that it proudly announced it had snagged 9 spam comments for me, but would only display two of its catch. I unspammed the two but cannot find the rest. So if you commented on something in the past day or two and it hasn’t shown up, please recomment and I’ll try to catch it this time before the stupid spam thing eats it.

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This is the name given the dilemma Jews face in the Western world, coping with the frenzy that is Christmas. For parents, the issue is frequently how to compete against its wild commercial excitement armed only with a minor non-biblical holiday. For Rabbis, it is the often-futile attempts to stop their congregation from trying to compete, from turning Hanukkah into Christmaskah. For those who have come to Judaism by choice as adults, the dilemma is something different, and frequently a very lonely time.

I got an email from someone who had surfed onto my blog asking me how I cope with Christmas as a converted Jew (those of us who converted prefer the term “Jew by choice” but it takes longer to write, so I might cheat a bit). She said she feels like a complete outsider and can’t wait for the month to be over. I sympathize, because I did go through this, but her question made me realize that I really don’t feel that much any more. So now I’m trying to figure out why I no longer dread December.

I think it comes down to three things: time, observance and community.

I’ve been a Jew for 11.5 years now. The woman who wrote to me has been one for two years. Believe me, it makes a difference. Even with all the preparation one does to convert, dunking in the mikvah does not an instant Jew make. That takes time.

When I had only been Jewish for a couple of years, I went to an award ceremony for volunteers in the community. One woman, who I greatly admire, won a leadership award. When she accepted it, she talked about being a Jew by choice which I hadn’t realized she was. She said that those who convert shouldn’t expect to feel instantly Jewish. She had given herself 13 years, because that’s how long any child born into Judaism gets to become a full-fledge Jew, so why shouldn’t she get the same deal? That one comment completely ended the pressure I put on myself – I was just a baby Jew!

By observance, I mean being a practicing Jew, however you chose to practice. You can’t just ditch Christmas without having something to replace it. And by that, I don’t just mean Hanukkah. I mean Shabbat, Passover, Sukkot. After a few years of marriage, J and I (and then the children) created our own holiday rituals. I realized this isn’t just something that happens for those who convert to another religion. My mother came from Holland, where Sinterclaus left gifts in her wooden clog, so she remade her December holiday too, when she showed up here in Canada.

There is a difference, though, because she didn’t have reminders of Sinterclaus everywhere she turned. But if you get involved in the larger Jewish community, it feels less like Christmas is everywhere. With lots of friends also celebrating Hanukkah, you don’t feel so lonely. I’m sometimes amazed at how distant Christmas is to my kids. A few days ago Maya, who is 10, asked me what date Christmas comes on this year. Since all the Jewish holidays move around each year depending on the moon, she never realized Christmas doesn’t.

I realized at about the 10 year mark that I really do feel fully Jewish, that there are actually times I forget that I wasn’t always Jewish. When that happened, thanks to all those things – time, observance and community – Christmas became no longer painful. It is no longer a reminder of what I gave up. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m not an outsider, I’m just in a different place.

When that happens, Christmas is fun again. I enjoy the lights, tell my kids stories of what it was like to celebrate Christmas when I was a kid, buy ornaments for my parents’ tree, all without feeling weird or left-out.

For a few years, I really resented that Christmas was everywhere, that shop-keepers wished me a Merry Christmas. Don’t they realize not everyone celebrates, I’d grumble to myself. Now, I don’t care. Most people do celebrate, so let them go to it.

I also cheat, by the way. The kids and I make a huge batch of Hanukkah cookies each December – we decorate sugar cookies in the shape of stars, dreidels and menorahs instead of Christmas trees and Santa Clauses. At Passover, we colour eggs. I figure eggs are a symbol of spring renewal whether you are Jewish, Christian or pagan, so why not? So I successfully sneak in my happy childhood rituals anyway.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a pang when I pass by a Christmas tree lot and smell that wonderful Christmas tree smell, or when 4-year-old Boo says, “Why can’t we put up lights?” But they are brief. Yesterday, I watched the neighbour struggle in the cold to put up their lights and was happy to realize that I’d never have to drag my butt up a ladder to put up lights in the freezing cold. That I could enjoy their lights, guilt-free, drinking hot chocolate and eating Hanukkah cookies. Sometimes it works out, being on the inside, looking out.

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I popped into a department store on Wednesday to pick up some little thing and was assaulted with the scent of cinnamon and the sight of candy canes everywhere. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening …

Oh come on. I know, it’s an old complaint, but do they have to do it the moment Halloween is over? We don’t get one second to breathe?

This is one area where the Americans have it really good compared to Canadians (and I’m a feminist leftie, so I don’t generally think the Americans have it good compared to us when it comes to consumerism). They still have Thanksgiving to get through, so I think they get to hold off on the Christmas stuff still.

Another unoriginal pet peeve – the obsession with calling Christmas “the holidays.” Like the catalogue that came the other day with a train set for the holidays, featuring Santa and his reindeer. There didn’t seem to be any other holidays involved.

This year marks the eleventh anniversary of my conversion to Judaism. It also marks my eleventh anniversary of not celebrating Christmas. I admit, at first I tried to weasel my way out of that, suggesting to my husband-to-be that we could have a tree and just tell the kids that we are Jewish, but mommy use to celebrate … No tree, he said. Jews don’t have trees.

I wanted Christmas because it evoked that warm fuzzy feeling of my childhood, the magic of Santa and the excitement of brightly wrapped presents under the tree. I also felt badly for my future children, who would never get to experience that magic. But Jews don’t have trees, so I gave it up, and felt badly during December for a few years after that, on the outside, looking in.

But the sadness faded. Our kids, as they grew, revelled in Hanukkah (and Purim, and Passover and Rosh Hoshanah). They don’t miss Christmas. They love lighting the candles on their menorahs and their eyes shine when I bring out a big bag of gelt (chocolate money) to play the dreidel game.

We take them to my parents house to celebrate Christmas, giving Christmas presents and receiving Hanukkah ones in return, and they clearly enjoy the tree and the lights, but to my surprise, it never evoked the same sense of delight as their Hanukkah celebrations do. They aren’t on the outside looking in. They are just in a different place.

Jews don’t have trees, and my kids are happy with that. And now so am I. But the city of Boston wasn’t last year. Every year, Nova Scotia gives Boston a huge evergreen in thanks for the help that city provided Halifax after the explosion of 1917. Last year, Boston announced the tree will no longer be a Christmas tree, but a Holiday tree.

At the time, I remember, a spokesperson said that lots of people enjoy the lights “we’re trying to be inclusive.”

This is not new. A few years back, Toronto and Ottawa tried the same thing. When they put their huge evergreens up at city hall, covered in Christmas decorations, city officials insisted that what they were putting up was a Holiday tree. And they received the same reaction: a lot of upset Christians wanted their Christmas tree back.

Can you imagine what J’s reaction would have been if I’d told him, back when I first converted, that I didn’t want to put a Christmas tree up, but a Holiday tree? Do you think he would have said, “Oh, okay then. That’s different.”

I am sure that, no matter what I’d called it, he would have said, “No tree. Jews don’t have trees.” Neither do Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. So whose holiday are they now including, by removing the ‘Christmas’ from the tree? If Boston really wanted to be inclusive, they’d put a menorah beside their Christmas tree instead of assuming that calling the tree a different name will change anything.

In fact, if I’m going to find anything offensive now, it is the assumption that calling something ‘Holiday’ instead of ‘Christmas’ is in any way more inclusive. Last year, our city newspaper printed a booklet of ‘Holiday’ songs, but the only holiday songs inside were Christmas ones. For a brief moment, as I opened the booklet, I thought maybe I’d find one token Hanukkah song to justify the ‘holiday’ in the title. Nope.

Here’s my suggestion: if you are putting up Christmas lights, or a Christmas tree or hosting a lunch at work with a secret Santa, use the word ‘Christmas,’ because that is what it is. I can guarantee most non-Christians will have no problem with it. If you really want to be inclusive and use the word ‘Holiday,’ try actually including something representative of another holiday.

But not until December 1st.

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