If I’m being honest, I start thinking about December sometime around mid-summer. As part of an interfaith family, with my son’s birthday at the beginning of the month, December has always been a Birthday-Chanukah-Christmas extravaganza. And not always in the best way! The prospect of gift buying and giving can be frustrating and I get overwhelmed by the idea of SO. MUCH. STUFF.
After a few years of turmoil and failed attempts with well-meaning grandparents to limit the influx of new toys, I decided on two things.
- Let Christmas be Christmas, in all it’s big-piles-of-presents-glory. The magic and the anticipation is something that won’t last forever. So I’m not going to mess with it.
- Remember that Chanukah is not “the Jewish Christmas”. As far as Jewish celebrations are concerned, Chanukah is not considered a major holiday. Growing up, presents were definitely involved, but what I remember most is food and family.
Last year, those memories were translated in my first children’s book, “The Great Latke Cook Off”- a Chanukah story about family tradition, friendly competition, and delicious recipes (and not one mention of gifts).
Reading the finished book to my kids for the first time was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! Now that the book has been published, I have started to hear from readers across the country. Many people have shared that this book reminds them of their own family experiences or that it has inspired them to start new cooking traditions. I couldn’t ask for better feedback!
For myself, publishing the book helped me focus in on what I love about Chanukah- family traditions and food! Here are a few of the ways my family celebrates during this busy time of year:
- Involve others: Each year, we pick one night of Chanukah to invited friends (of all faiths) over to play dreidel and make latkes. I love sharing my grandmother’s recipe with our neighbors, especially those who are enjoying it for the first time!
- Focus on experiences: I love to give gifts that allow us to spend time together and help my kids learn new skills. It’s fun to find creative ways for them to unwrap swim lessons, movie tickets, or a coupon for a special dinner out. I round out the others nights with gifts of books and games, things that can be enjoyed again and again.
- Give back: Tzedakah, or charity, is an important part of Judaism. So we choose one night of Chanukah to not receive gifts, but to donate gifts to others. My kids love going to the store to pick out presents that a child their age will enjoy. And we also take the opportunity to clean out the house and donate items to local non-profits for families in need of assistance (a win-win!). It has become one of our favorite nights of Chanukah and something we all look forward to.
Whatever your religious or non-religious affiliations, I hope that you’ll find ways to create your own traditions of time with family, friends, and good food. Definitely good food!
Lauren Ranalli is a children’s book author, public health professional, and mom to two high-spirited, fiercely lovable children. Her books include “The Great Latke Cook Off” and the forthcoming “Snow Day at the Zoo”, “Places We Have Never Been”, and “Tap Dance Ninja”. You can find out more about her work at laurenranalli.com or follow her on Instagram: @lauren.ranalli_author, Facebook: @Lauren Ranalli, author, or Twitter: @LRanalli_author.