I’m a Jewish Mama who, through marriage and motherhood, celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas with my husband and two young boys. We aren’t a particularly religious brood, so the holidays are mostly about food, family, tradition, and, of course, presents, which is great except for the part where my kids are like a roving band of Santa Claus-obsessed misfits who would get in a car with anyone in a red suit who offered them Hanukkah gelt.
Learning the Christmas ropes with a Jewish childhood under my belt has been a confusing, enlightening, and hilarious experience, and I’ve learned many valuable lessons on the journey. For any Mamas out there that are new to ho-ho-ho-ing (and might be thinking, Oy), here are some helpful dos and don’ts on surviving Christmas while laughing all the way:
DO accept that the behemoth otherwise known as the Christmas season doesn’t start when Santa Claus floats down Sixth Avenue at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Rather, it commences as soon as the Lakeshore Learning and Toys To Grow On catalogs begin arriving in the mail and/or one of your kids asks for an iPad mini (whichever happens first).
DON’T be a Grinch. Buying Hanukkah and Christmas gifts for two bona fide shopaholics who need nothing but want really, really badly every toy they’ve seen reviewed by their BFF Evan of “EvanTubeHD” makes me want to take my family off the grid (except for air conditioning, Chardonnay, and SkinnyPop, of course). By Christmas morning, my boys tear through presents with a desperation that terrifies me. Every year, I lobby for a family trip instead of the holiday insanity at home, and every year, my family looks at me like I have three heads. Let it go. Grinches never win.
DON’T overlook Santa’s pending arrival as a tool for discipline, as in: “I’m telling Santa that you didn’t brush your teeth!” or “Santa doesn’t like tattletales!” Santa keeps order in my house for several months each year, and for that reason alone, I can turn the other way when my house looks like a home invasion gone very bad on Christmas morning. (Side note: In my house, Hanukkah gelt is also known as leverage.)
DO take your kids to the mall to meet Santa Claus. They’re guaranteed to say some funny shit to the jolly dude with the white beard sitting in front of Victoria’s Secret.
DON’T go overboard with details on how Santa gets in the house on Christmas Eve. As with all tough talks, only answer questions that are asked. Otherwise, you run the risk of scaring the crap out of your kids. If you think “Where do babies come from?” or “What happens after you die?” are tough questions, how about this one: “Is Santa going to come into my bedroom?” Dear God, I hope not.
DO utilize these Tough Talk Tips:
- Pixie dust is an excellent answer to most questions. “How does Santa deliver presents to children all around the world in one night?” Pixie dust. “How will Santa get inside when we don’t have a chimney?” Pixie dust. You get the idea.
- Let your kids answer their own questions. One Christmas morning, my little one stared wide-eyed at all of the presents under the tree and asked, “Did Santa bring me the big train? Did Santa bring me the big airplane?” (Santa brought neither, by the way.) While I stood tongue-tied, my older son saved me with, “Santa brings you what you want.” Wise child, I have.
- Redirect! Sometimes pixie dust doesn’t cut the mustard. For instance: “Why did Santa leave the boxes for the drum set in our garage?” You can reprimand your husband later, but in the meantime, food is an excellent distraction. “Let’s have ice cream!” works like a charm in my house.
DO buy a real Christmas tree. There’s less of a carbon footprint, most communities have tree-recycling programs, it smells divine, and unlike with a fake tree, there’s motivation to take it down before Passover.
DO let your kids decorate the tree. It will look ridiculous and the ornaments will hang only as high as your tallest child, but your kids will feel great about themselves, and whatever makes them happy is best and all that crap. That, and you can fix it when they’re at school. If they ask any questions, go with pixie dust.
DO something charitable (besides re-gifting). There’s so much “getting” this time of year, especially when you celebrate multiple holidays, so make sure your kids practice the concept of giving, too.
DON’T put presents under the tree until after the kids are asleep on Christmas Eve! There was a time when I arranged presents under the tree as I purchased and wrapped them. It seemed like a logical way to manage the holiday madness until my husband tactfully explained they all had to be hidden so the kids would think Santa delivered them.
DO get over the sting of giving Santa all of the glory WHEN YOU DID ALL OF THE DAMN WORK! With so much evil in the world and celebrities and athletes to idolize for all the wrong reasons, it’s refreshing to see the kids fixated on a good and honest figure…or at least something besides Minecraft.
DON’T forget to fill the stockings. When I was a little girl, I would’ve done anything for a Christmas stocking. Now, I’d like to burn them in the backyard. Filling them isn’t so much the icing on the cake as it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. The day I find round-trip plane tickets to Aruba in my stocking is the day I’ll change my tune. Wait…I don’t even have a stocking! (Note to self: Buy stockings for Mommy and Daddy next year.)
DO leave cookies and milk out for Santa on Christmas Eve, and DO indulge once the coast is clear. You’ll need the sugar high to do all of Santa’s grunt work after the kids finally go the %&@# to sleep!
DON’T wrap presents from Santa with the same wrapping paper as the presents from you (a rookie mistake). I learned this one the hard way when my son asked on Christmas morning: “Mommy, how does Santa have the same wrapping paper as us?” Pixie dust?
DO pat yourself on the back and whisper a quiet Mazel Tov as you haul the trash and recycling to the curb on December 26th. You did it! You survived Christmas!
As a Jewish Mama’s Christmas For Dummies officially comes to a close, I leave you with this critical question to ponder: Which is worse…scraping eight nights of candle wax off of a menorah or un-decorating a Christmas tree? DON’T think too hard about it. They both DO suck.