I really don’t hate the holidays. I really don’t! I just hate the shopping, and the spending, and the worrying, and the waste, and the debt, and the competition, and the greed, and the commercialism, and the….did I say I don’t hate the holidays?
I grew up in a household that celebrated a non-religious Christmas with all the fixings and very little of the true meaning. So I had an enormous tree, elegant decorations, hundreds of presents, including a real life dog every few years or so, and of course a very festive and fancy blow out holiday party. We got dressed up in our best velvet clothing brought down from my grandparents in New York City. My brothers didn’t beat each other up for exactly 15 minutes and stayed cleaned for that same amount of time. My mother looked gorgeous and my father was dressed in a tux. Lots of people showed up and lots of people ate catered foods and drank a lot of alcohol. There were songs inside and out and I thought this was absolutely normal. Did I mention that we were Jewish? Which was never discussed. Well, my favorite part of this time of year was not the presents, although there would be one or two special gifts that I would treasure — and of course I took great care with wrapping paper and ribbon and cards ( let’s face it: I was an organizer with OCD tendencies even then )– but there were wonderful holiday movies on the television, like It’s a Wonderful Life, and multiple versions of A Christmas Carol (including Mr. Magoo’s). Those were my favorite. They encouraged kindness, and family support, and helping others. Those ideas stuck with me.
Then the crash came. Not the financial, but the familial. My parents had a very ugly divorce right at Thanksgiving and Christmas became horrible for so many reasons. I actually wanted to climb into bed until it and the new year revelries were over. People sharing time with their families from the end of November until January 2nd made me depressed and all I wanted was to get on with life and be constructive somehow.
That began to change when I met my husband, and now my partner of 35 years, Paul. He wanted to bring the holidays back into my life with a sense of joy and cheer and also treats. And he did that. He is generous, sometimes to a fault. His family was also so incredibly generous to me, and each and every gift was given with such love and joy and I opened each gift with eyes gleaming and a true sense of wonder. I continued to do this with our three marvelous, darling little girls.
As time went on, we were celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah and I could feel that it was beginning to be a bit overwhelming, for the children (kids lose interest in toys after a while when there are so many) and definitely for me. I was always planning and focusing on what would be perfect gifts for each one of my girls, for my husband, for my family members, for friends, for everyone else, and my head was spinning. It was too much. Too much spending, too much wrapping, too much entertaining, too many holiday cards. As the girls got older, we started to encourage homemade gifts and giving back. So instead of getting gifts all eight nights of Chanukah, we taught the girls about giving to causes of their choosing as a gift to the causes and therefore a gift to themselves. They also did this with toys they received for Christmas. When we no longer had an au pair living with us, we decided that since no one in our house was Christian we would only celebrate Chanukah and continue the tradition of giving some of what we got back to those less fortunate. It gave my girls and us a real sense of happiness, pride and calm.
Stay tuned for Part II of my personal note on the holidays.