For so many of us, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s each year, our lives swirl into a beautiful blur of holiday hustle. And for my little family, which is composed of two moms (one Jewish and one Catholic), a toddler who cares more about presents than what holiday they’re affiliated with and a long-haired cat who wouldn’t know a holiday if it bit him in the butt, the days of Hanukkah and Christmas blend together in the most lovely, chaotic and exhausting ways.
December (and November this year — thanks a lot, Hanukkah) is filled with shopping, prepping and eating hearty holiday hams and cookies by the dozen; one-click Amazon purchases and one too many credit card swipes; the crinkle of wrapping paper, the glare of menorah candles flickering and the clap as the dreidel hits the floor. These precious and intense weeks hum as traditions are passed down from generation to generation.
Hanukkah falls on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which means it’s different every year. This year’s Hanukkah was early December, but some years, it overlaps with Christmas, complicating and compounding family parties and gift-giving. After nearly 10 years together with two families that have blended in with us both so seamlessly, my wife and I cross the lines of our respective traditions and help each other with our various holiday traditions and tasks.
We generally host my family for a Hanukkah party each year, at which point my goy wife rolls up her sleeves and makes plates of delicious, greasy latkes and applesauce while I pile presents under the Christmas tree and set out in search of a peppermint pig (the Saratoga Springs peppermint pig tradition is a Christmas hallmark where my wife grew up).
My family brings jelly doughnuts and bad jokes and fills up our house with laughter and the sound of a small number of Jews talking loudly and somehow sounding like a much larger group. We open presents and fill our bellies and light the menorah and spin the dreidel. We tell our kids the real story of Hanukkah and teach them what the symbols mean. We sing the songs of the holiday, from the Hebrew originals to those adapted by American culture (who doesn’t love Adam Sandler?) and do what all good Jews do best: gossip and kvetch. And when our bellies are full, we open presents, eat chocolate gelt and hand out yet more for everyone to take home.
Usually, the families have barely digested from multiple Thanksgivings (although this year, boycotting Thanksgiving may have become our new family tradition), and then Hanukkah racks up the food and the buzz of family shenanigans yet again, often just days later. Then, before we can recover from those festivities, we’re simultaneously picking out and decorating a Christmas tree, buying yet more gifts for my wife’s side of the family, and posing the toddler (as if a toddler could be commanded to do anything, let alone stand still long enough to pose for a camera) for “the perfect” family holiday card photo.
Then, suddenly, it’s Christmas, and we’re hosting our own small pre-Christmas family soiree with a formal dinner and gift exchange, after which we travel to my wife’s family’s for a “real” Christmas Eve party and dinner — and then a whole day of extended family and friend activities on Christmas Day.
By New Year’s, all I want to do is crawl into bed before sunset and not eat again until July.
Being tired and full is hardly something to complain about, though. The richness of family and food is a blessing. Sure, there’s a cranky and spoiled toddler whom we — both joyfully and begrudgingly — allow to go off his routine and eat sugar (cringe). And there are family spats and drama and sad reminiscing about relatives who are not able to make it or no longer with us to celebrate the holidays in person.
In all, the last months of the year can become an exhilarating and utterly exhausting whirlwind of holiday cheer and excess — regardless of whether you’re a nuclear family with two moms and two different religions. I am so grateful for this gluttonous, stressful, nonstop, family- and food-packed season. But I’ll admit I’m looking forward to a hopefully quiet, mindful and productive New Year.