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The Only Problem With Teaching Our Kids About Other Holidays

Erin Zammett Ruddy

Despite the fact that we do not celebrate the holiday, Alex is obsessed with Hanukkah. Obsessed. When he went to the PTA-sponsored “holiday shoppe” at his school—where the kids can buy little gifts for their families—he bought Nick a ...dreidel. Only Alex couldn’t wait until Christmas to give it to his dad so he promptly unwrapped it and has been playing with it nonstop. He asks me to make him potato latkes every day (his teacher said he devoured them when one of the moms came in and gave a Hanukkah demonstration), he wanted me to draw him a menorah on our playroom chalkboard wall (I did), and he continues to ask me this question: “Mom, if we celebrated Hanukkah you would let me use a match to light the menorah, right?”

I love that he’s learning about different religions and holidays in school but his demand for Hanukkah knowledge has outpaced my supply. Sure, I can spin a dreidel but I do not actually know how to play it. Next year I will be leaning on my Jewish friends to help Al learn more (he was invited to light the menorah with one of our friends last week but we couldn’t make it). And I will definitely fry him up some potato latkes because, well, they are freakin awesome. We're also going to check a Hanukkah book out of the library. Of course yesterday I had to break it to him that Hanukkah is over. Softening the blow is the fact that Christmas, the holiday we actually do celebrate, is fast approaching. That said, I’m still in over my head with this kid. Check out the conversation we had in the car yesterday:

Me: “So, Al, I’m thinking we should get Gregory a football and Andrew some art supplies and maybe we’ll get Sofia a doll for Christmas. Sound good?”

Alex: “Yeah. People also give guilt too don’t they mom?”

Me: “Guilt, Al? That’s not really a present. Guilt?”

Alex: “Yeah, mom, guilt. People give it to other people for the holidays.”

Me: “Where did you learn about guilt, bud? Al, guilt is a feeling, and if you give someone guilt it means you make them feel bad for something they did or said.” [my inner dialogue: actually you’re right, bud. I get a lot of guilt at the holidays—and I give some, too. Welcome to the Zammett family, welcome to Catholocism. Wow, this kid is even smarter than I thought!]

Alex: “No mom, guilt, guilt, like the chocolate coins wrapped in gold. Like the stuff you get at Hanukkah. Not a feeling.”

Me: “Oh, yes, of course. Well, I suppose we could give some gelt too.” [my inner dialogue: Yes, I’m vaguely remembering that this might be what those gold foil-wrapped coins are called, must google as soon as I get home—is this kid really already smarter than me?!]

The conversation ended there. I think I said something along the lines of “Look kids, a deer!” to change the subject. I felt like a little like Amelia Bedelia to be honest, stumped by a homophone, schooled by my five year old.  But it was one of my favorite conversations I’ve had with Alex, particularly lately. It was funny in a way that made me laugh genuinely and not want to cry right after. It was a bit of lightness in a sea of dark and awful sadness over the past few days. I am truly having a tough time keeping it together around Alex as everything he does from brush his teeth to bound off the school bus makes me think of the Newtown tragedy. He is so close to the age of those kids; when I look in his face, my mind starts what iffing and my chest feels like it will cave in. I am constantly thinking of those families and of what it must have been like on Friday, and what it must be like now and what it’s going to be like. Everything hurts, but this little exchange was just pure Alex, pure fun, pure light. It made me smile and I hope it makes you smile, too. 

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