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Not a Merry, but Yet a Very Happy Hanukkah

26 Dec

Holidays are known (notorious) for triggering sad memories of family missing in our lives. So, of course I have been thinking about my mom and, yet, fortunately focus on memories of celebrating Chanukah with her. My thoughts rambled and I came up with one memory or lesson for each night.

1.  Lesson, learned very young: Chanukah is NOT as important a holiday as Christmas. I grew up knowing that Chanukah celebrations mimicked Christmas due to societal pressure. My parents were dedicated to recognizing the holiday and carrying out the standard rituals, without Christmasizing it.  Even as a child, my parents somehow helped me feel that the story of the Maccabees, lighting the Menorah, dreidel games and latkes were more important than gift-giving.

2.  Gifts for Children Only:  My mom was adamantly opposed to children giving Chanukah gifts to adults. They were happy to give us gifts, but believed the gelt-giving tradition was intended to be non-reciprocal. As a child and young adult, I might have felt relief at being spared the expense and shopping agony, but the true test of admiring this “rule” is that I pay it forward—I am very happy to not receive gifts from my children and I am truly happy to give.

3.   Chanukah gifts: Not usually bountiful, but, even in tough years, my mom and dad gave us each one gift we requested. They joked that if we wanted one gift each night we’d have to settle for  Crayola’s box of 8 distributed over the holiday. Rebelling against this and starting with my daughter’s first Chanukah,  I decided to indulge my children the way I wish I was…. Whether it is a relative’s, friend’s or our gift, I make sure my children have at least one gift to open each night after we light the candles.

4. Shopping for Sales: We often waited to buy gifts until the Old Bridge Drug Fair lowered prices hourly before closing on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we even ventured to Toys R Us the day after Christmas for the best sales.  Some years our gifts were delayed until the monumental sales began. It was, of course, more fun to go when we had already been appeased with Chanukah gelt and gifts and the trip filled our rooms with extra toys. One problem with my parents’ plan is that I do recall being really sad in the Barbie aisle when NOTHING was reduced. Those were the days of fewer sales and deals. As an ardent sale shopper, my mom would be overwhelmed with today’s current state of sales. I wish my mom could have seen Target on Dec. 24, 2011!

5.  Better than any gift: My parents’ surprise announcement just before the holiday—we’re driving to Florida. I wonder how crazed the last minute decision made my mom—preparing for the long car ride and stay in Miami or Orlando. I knew the reason for this surprise was due to either a bonus paycheck or some other “found” money. The impetus did not take away even one bit of the euphoria I felt when the trip was announced.

6.  Grandma Ray’s latkes: I can see and smell them now—meaty potato patties coated in heavy oil and fried until all of the oil soaked in. During holidays my mother lifted her usual ban on my Grandma’s food treats. My grandma was even allowed to bring the fruit slices, sweets I still crave (and must admit, buy).

7.  Dreidel games: I often think about the very simple fun my sister and I had while playing dreidel on her floor—before her 1970s green shag carpeting was installed. The tiles were a drab and cold brown during the winter, but spinning for pennies (or even luckier, Hershey’s Kisses) was a tradition I relished. I still have our plastic dreidels, the bigger shallow dreidel that held the tiny ones and the piece of paper reminding us how much gelt we give or get from each letter.

8.  Keeping it simple: In keeping with the effort to celebrate Hanukkah in a non-Christmas way, we had very few decorations.  The most significant symbol of the Macabee miracle was prominently displayed—a brass electric Menorah in the window and an old-fashioned brass Menorah in the family room. I have proudly displayed the same electric Menorah, my Grandma Ray’s candle menorah and one that we received as a gift. I must admit I have decorated with Chanukah ribbon and streamers and use napkins decorated with Hanukkah symbols during the 8 days.

I wish my mom could see that she taught me well and her guidance/lessons live on. Happy Hanukkah!

Special thanks to my sister for helping me with accurate recall!

Now go read a wonderful Hanukkah Hoopla post by The Culture Mom !

I would like to thank Streit’s and Doni Zasloff Thomas a.k.a. Mama Doni, the lead singer/songwriter of The Mama Doni Band for providing each of the 16 bloggers involved in #HanukkahHoopla with a little cyberswag.

How can you win? Leave me an awesome comment. On January 5, 2012, I will select one winner at random. Be sure to subscribe to my blog or subscribe to comments on this page so you can find out if you are the winner! If I don’t hear from you within 48 hours, I will select another winner.

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Not interested in winning? You can still leave a comment! I love to read your words. Just write: “No prize necessary” in your comment.

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L’Shanah Tovah: Wishing You a Good Year and Feeling Better About It!

28 Sep

When I first thought about writing this blog, I spoke with a few friends who have experienced the same loss as I have—their moms also died when they were young adults. One common question came up with each friend—which day do you find most difficult or sad since your mom died? Birthdays rank high as an answer. But, for me, it is the Jewish High Holidays.

Time definitely does not make all sad feelings go away, but has helped in this case. Still, every Rosh Hashanah has a sadness that I can’t escape. I have tried to determine the reason why I find this the toughest time of year. It is not necessary or even plausible to find logic in my feelings, but here it goes anyway:

1.  I love holiday celebrations and this is one that my mom always hosted. I do not recall any big gatherings, but the holiday meal was special. And, yet the food was not extraordinary. My mom was an excellent cook, but she made traditional (actually, the tastiest I’ve ever had) chicken soup, a chicken dish and good sides. I still wonder why we did not have brisket.  I can surmise that either it was too expensive or considered less healthful.

2.  As a family we went to Temple for evening and morning services. Our Rabbi’s sermons stimulated our family discussions throughout the day. My mom couldn’t read Hebrew, but always had an opinion about the Rabbi’s address.

3. Dressing for the holidays was a huge deal. My mother agonized over her holiday outfits. She was always concerned that people would scoff, albeit silently, at her if she wore the same dress two years in a row. I never understood that and I remember telling her that no one would ever notice. My comment never helped and I was too naïve to realize she wanted to be noticed!

3.  After the Rosh Hashanah morning service, our day continued with family time. We would eat again, either at the Rabbi’s Open House or at home. And then, my father would declare the holiday over and want to go shopping. My mother argued that some Jewish people were still in services and we should not go out until the holiday ended officially. But, each year, she would be overruled and off to Sym’s we would go!

4. After my father died, my mom sometimes spent either Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur with my sister. I was weepy when she left and thrilled when she returned. More than any other celebration, this one was incomplete without her.

So, my feelings about the holiday are drawn from the traditional love of matzo ball soup, holiday prayers and melodies to the secondary and unnecessary fixation on fashion. In each circumstance, memories of my mom’s presence prevail.

For years after my mom died, I would dread the High Holy Days and feel relief when they ended. Yet with time and distraction, I have grown to enjoy them. Thanks to the thoughtful persistence of good friends, we enjoy their warm and wonderful family gatherings. During this holiday season, I think about and miss my mom more than usual. And, that is just another tribute to her and our special relationship.

I continue to wonder, what days are hardest for other motherless daughters. We all share a sense of dread for certain days. What day do you find you most miss your mom?