While we're constantly having Christmas thrown at us from every angle, between the TV, radio, stores, houses with lights, etc., I still can't muster up a "feel" for the winter holidays this year. I know I celebrate Hanukkah and that it is going on now, but even that feels misplaced to me, like we're doing it at the wrong time of the year. I thought it was the weather being more balmy than usual, but we spent many a winter holiday season in Florida when I was a kid and it still had a "feel" to me.
To understand what I'm getting at, allow me to backtrack a bit. My mom's first cousin is not Jewish. (There was some intermarriage in our family.) Therefore, she and her family celebrate Christmas. We would celebrate the day with them when I was growing up and even as I was becoming an adult. As a result, there was a time in my life when I actually enjoyed Christmas and all it had to offer. I love celebrating Hanukkah, but there was something warm and wonderful about Christmas at the time. It gave the whole month of December a certain "feel." We would go to our cousins' house and the whole place would be decked out in Christmas gear. They had a really nice (huge) tree taking up part of their living room. (Their house represented Christmas so well that it was weird to go there any other time of the year, when all the decorations were gone.) They had relaxing Christmas tunes playing in the background the entire time. And then there was the food. There would be snacks when we first came in. Amongst the snacks was a bowl of dill weed dip (my favorite). I'd use it for cucumbers and potato chips. Dinner was turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, etc. I don't think the items ever varied from year to year. The best part was dessert. Our cousin had my late maternal grandma's cheesecake recipe and would make it with cherries on top. There were Frango mint cookies and brownies, as well. Three other things that made the experience memorable....eating dinner on the giant ping pong table in the basement, getting free Disney CDs (our cousin's husband worked for Disney records at the time) and most important of all, having my grandma and great-uncle there. (They were brother and sister and passed away about 4 1/2 years apart from one another.) Another treat was my cousin's husband's sister coming in every other year or so. She was just really nice. On the way home, we'd be all bundled up in the car on a snowy night, passing by all the houses with twinkling lights. There was something so peaceful about the drive back to our house.
After my great-uncle passed away in 2000, the feeling of the day changed a bit. My grandma was also not doing so well and getting confused more often. The enthusiasm the two of them brought to the day had diminished. As our group got smaller, we stopped eating in the basement and ate at a dining room table in the kitchen instead. It was still a nice day, but it just felt different.
When my older son was born, we stopped doing the annual Christmas dinners at my cousins' house. We didn't want to expose him to Christmas, even as a baby. We would travel to visit my mother-in-law instead and spend a traditional Hanukkah with her. After we moved, we didn't come back to visit on Christmas. One year, we came in the day after and just focused on Hanukkah and New Year's Eve. That was back in 2007. In 2008, we spent Christmas day in Baltimore with my in-laws and stayed for a Shabbos weekend. It didn't even feel like Christmas at that point. It was just another day. The following years, Christmas was combined with Shabbat, so it was easy not to notice it and we didn't have to listen to the music either. :) By this point, Christmas music had started to annoy me overall.
Back to the present. Christmas is on a Sunday this year. For us observant Jews, it's considered to be just another day. It's equivalent to non-Jews getting the day off for Rosh Hashanah (at least those who work in schools and Jewish organizations do). However, there's not as much to do on Christmas, aside from going to movies and eating Chinese food. We have yet to do that on Christmas anyway. This year, my family is coming in for a visit, so I'm looking forward to that. I hope we'll be able to find some entertaining things to do though. Maybe this is the year we'll get Chinese. Who knows? I'm just thrilled to have them here to spend time with us and the kids. In any case, we're celebrating Hanukkah and it just happens to coincide with Christmas again this year. It will be nice to have a holiday at the same time as everyone else, but I also hope the kids don't get cabin fever. If it's nice enough out, we could go outside.
I'm not sure what the lack of a "feel" is about this year. Maybe I'm burnt out from being so busy lately? Perhaps it's nerves over my daughter's upcoming cochlear implant surgery? Is it because I've become so disassociated from Christmas that it really has become just another day for me too, thus overtaking the way the holiday season feels in general? I would hope to get a "feel" from Hanukkah though, since that's my whole focus these days (even though I'm having trouble focusing on it). And it's one of my favorite holidays. At work, everyone has been gathering for menorah lighting on a daily basis. Someone shares a reflection about Hanukkah each day. It's really nice, but I still can't say that it gets me into the mood of the holiday. I'm hoping that having my family here will bring in a "feel" for this time of year. (And I hope to see "The Muppets" too. :) ) Finally, I'd eventually like that cheesecake recipe so I can make it for Shavuot and maybe start a new tradition in that way.