Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Little Women was one of my favorite stories growing up and there is that chapter (or scene if you’ve seen any of the movies) where the March family make their Christmas meal and realize that there is a family down the street that has nothing- and they take their entire meal to them and everyone is so warm and fuzzy- and singing around the fire…I grew up with that image of the holidays- one of togetherness, family, and community. Cut to, years later when I had the kids to add to my perfect image of holidays around the fire and my kids were cute cuddly little humans so excited for Hanukah (and Christmas, because I’m a latin jew that celebrates both, cause… why not?) and there I was figuring out 8, that's right 8 days of holidays (plus xmas) and special meals, decor, music, gifts,... oh the gifts! Needless to say, I burned out quickly and ended with two very demanding customers that spent the whole meal going “is it time for gifts yet?” OY… forget meaningful “Little Women” holidays, it was more like the “Little Grinches” holidays- with tantrum-ing well trained brats and a grinch for a parent. I knew something had to give.
In one of my “I’m exhausted and I hate the holidays” nights after my overstimulated kids finally passed out, I did a quick Hanukkah for dummies review and re-read the story of Hanukkah to try to go back to basics.
This is a nugget that I took along in the rest of my mom career- when it’s too much, it is probably- TOO MUCH- so break it down and go back to basics:
Why am I doing what I am doing?
What am I trying to achieve?
Who am I doing this for?
Resorting to the basics and sifting through the noise and guilt of parenting has become one of my superpowers. I am convinced that in part, thanks to this more intentional and simpler way of parenting, my now adult children are aware, empathetic and considerate humans. But I digress…
Every-time I would read a story of Hanukkah there was the talk of Miracles which always met me with the question, “Mami, what is a miracle?” to which I responded “Miracles are something that just happens for the good of all involved or that makes someone feel like if by magic, a problem is fixed.” I would follow up (in a good Montessori fashion) with something that was relatable/hands-on to my kids by asking them the question:
“What is a problem you may have? Something that is hard for you?”
Abi has always had a hard time sleeping and she responded that she has a problem when I leave her room at bedtime and she can’t sleep- to which I responded that a miracle would be if suddenly you could fall asleep on your own, she added, “Nope, the miracle would be if YOU could stay in here all night!” Ha! She’s always been clever, that one. They got the point though and without getting into the idea of Gd as “the one” that makes the miracles, I explained that miracles happen everyday in our lives either by the power of the Almighty (if you are a believer as I am) or by the power of the kindness of another. Therefore understanding that we too have the ability to make miracles. I love the explanation that Rabbi Aaron Miller gives in this article (in the Washington post,) he explains that Hanukkah “commemorates the miraculous victory of the Maccabees, when a ragtag band of dedicated Israelites rose up to defend their tiny nation against the Seleucid army — the mightiest in the world. This season is a time of great miracles, celebrating the courage that forever shaped the Jewish future.”... “the Maccabees became partners with God in transforming the world, and their courage and determination teach us that God does not act alone. As the great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, ‘Pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on you.’”
Thus giving us the power to participate in miracle making. And so aha- with a little sifting of the message, I found a way to bring the concept of miracles to a relatable understanding of something that we could build on. We started that year a project that to this day my kids and I participate in every year called, “Making Miracles,” and this has become our Hanukkah tradition.
The first year the kids decided that the world had trash everywhere (because in school they had to pick up “2 pieces” of trash after lunch.) and we drove around with a trash bag and gloves and anywhere we went and saw trash we picked it up. We also made lots of crafts without our own “trash” (basically recyclable art.)
Another year, they learned about trees in school and told me that one of the problems earth had was that trees were being destroyed (thank you Dr. Seuss for “the Lorax”) and we planted a tree at home and went to Tree People (an organization here in LA) to help to plant trees.
Another year, they were concerned with the problem that other kids like them didn't have a family and to this day we still send money and pen pal with two kids through Childfund organization.
Little did I know, at the time, that I had started teaching my children about service based learning. What started as a desire for the Little Women Holiday feel, ended up turning into a tradition of meaningful and intentional celebrating. Sure, I still got Abi the Dora doll she really wanted and Luc the Thomas the Train set but now that my kids are almost adults, I asked them what they wanted this year for Hanukkah and they both responded, “nothing really, we have all we need, what we really want to do is figure out what miracles we are going to work on this year?
Chag Sameach! (to those celebrating the Miracle of Lights) and to everyone else may this holiday season be filled with miracles in your life and may you find ways to help make miracles for others!
Con mucho Amor,