The first night of Hanukkah was beautiful – candles shining bright in the Menorah, delicious potato latkes and Hanukkah jelly doughnuts, saying the blessings and singing together. Family time at its best and just as I had envisioned.
Then it was time to open the presents. After several years of resisting the kids’ pressure and sticking with the Israeli custom of giving money rather than gifts, this year we have finally given in and adopted the Jewish American custom of giving eight (!) presents to each child – one for each night of Hanukkah. So unlike years past, this year I had to give a lot of thought to what I bought. I tried to be thoughtful, without going overboard, since you can’t really buy eight big gifts, at least not if you want a college fund for your kids.
Back to last night. Presents were opened, proper gratitude was shown, except that one of my daughters seemed disappointed. When we asked her about it, she said, “Well, it’s just that if this is the biggest gift, then it’s not that big, so yes, I’m a little disappointed.”
I couldn’t help it. I burst into tears. Not just tears, mind you, but sobs, loud uncontrollable sobs. Then to enhance the dramatic effect, I stormed out of the room, announcing that to me Hanukkah this year is over and I have no intention of celebrating it further.
No worries – we have talked it over. Forgiveness was asked and given. It was, like so many other instances of family drama, a golden opportunity to discuss important stuff such as human nature and what’s really important in life. We turned our little family drama into a big teachable moment.
But it was a teachable moment for me too. Grownup me, that got so carried away in the commercial aspect of the holiday, investing not just dollars but also emotions into finding the “perfect” gifts, orchestrating the “perfect” holiday. Last night, I was reminded that gifts can never be perfect, that trying to create perfect holidays is impossible, and that – cliche but true – the most important aspect of the holidays is spending time together with family and friends, imperfect as they might be, human as they most definitely are.
I wish you all Happy Holidays and a very happy and fulfilling New Year.