We are a blended family, celebrating both Hanukkah (for my husband's Jewish roots) and Christmas (for my Christan ones). Some people think this means a month long present fest. But it doesn't.
For us, holidays are for giving. Although we take great pleasure in giving to our kids, we've never had the means to go crazy. They don't get eight nights of gifts, and they don't expect it. It's not even a given that a gift for them will appear under the tree with a gift tag reading "from Mommy and Daddy". We focus our efforts on gifts for loved ones. And somehow, without fail, Santa Claus manages to arrive.
This was a tough year for us. Somewhere around Thanksgiving, as the sales rush started and the kids started making lists of what they wanted, and what they wanted to gift to others, we had to take a long hard look at our bank account, increased health care costs, and face some hard facts.
We just couldn't afford to make many purchases. I won't bore (or horrify) you with a dollar figure. Let's just say that money was tight. And it didn't feel very celebratory to me.
However, when I finally sat down to break it to the kids, they looked at me like I'd grown two heads. "I don't think you understand," I explained, "We can't go shopping for gifts this year. We can't..." I couldn't get all the words out. Their shining faces, hopefully smiles were too much. I told them the economy was tight, I told them no one had much to spare. And I told them I didn't know that we'd really be exchanging gifts this year. I even warned them that Santa might pay rent and call it a day.
Again, they looked at me like I'd grown two heads.
"But, we can give people things, right?" Bumblebee ventured.
"Well," I explained patiently, hating myself for it, but motivated by a hand full of medical bills, "The thing is, we can't really afford to go shopping. Even for inexpensive things. Not for something nice enough to give as a gift."
She furrowed her brow. "But Mommy, we don't have to go shopping."
The next thing I knew, the living room looked like it had been hit by a tornado. There were perler beads jumbled in a corner. There was fabric strewn across the sofa. There were two (not so) little girls spread out on their bellies, with colored pencils and shrinky dink paper. There was a long list of every loved one with check boxes next to each name.
And by the time Christmas came along, every single name was checked off.
For each Hanukkah gathering we attended, we arrived with a presentable token of remembrance.
It's not that the holidays are about gifts. They're not. It's about being together and remembering family. But when money is tight, you feel the lack of gifts. The emptiness in your hands feels heavy and awkward. The place in your head where you keep that virtual shopping list is in overdrive, making you painfully aware of what you aren't spending. And while you know that those you love don't keep tabs on prices, some tiny part of your soul weighs each and every package that enters the front door against the feather light offerings you had in return.
I only felt it in it's entirety for a few days this season. And then I pulled myself together to prepare the kids. And then...then they saved me. They swept me away in their excitement, they motivated me to decorate the house. They filled the tree with beautifully wrapped packages.
They made their own magic. While we warned them of reality, they believed in something more. And magic happened.
I won't take away from the day by details, our idea of a plentiful holiday is likely much different than yours. And yours is different than another family's. Suffice it to say, if you listen to Bumblebee drone on, you'd think we spent a fortune instead of...er...well, not.
I will say that Hanukkah ended on Tuesday. And as we watched the candles burn down to the last spark, our hearts were filled with hope. We were warmed our togetherness. We treasured memories, of our family and our recent holidays shared.
Were our offerings at all comparable to what was returned? Not when you think in terms of cash, I'm sure. But every one came from the heart. Every one was motivated by a child. And our holiday was that much richer for the money we didn't spend. There were no magi. There were no spirits of past or future. There was only tradition, and love, magic and hope.
Tonight, our menorah is shined (dipped in boiling water and looking nearly new, thanks to a friend's suggestion) and gently put away, awaiting the next holiday. I can almost see the lights shining now.