Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Celebrating holidays with kids

Yesterday I was reading Nilsa's post about her Passover and Easter celebrations, and I wrote a comment about this, and then I realized I wanted to talk about it more in depth, so now I'm going to turn it into a post.

Growing up with a Jewish mother and an Anglican father, both of whom were decidedly non-religious, the religious holidays we celebrated were Easter, Christmas, and Chanukah. All three were very non-religious. Easter was pretty much just about the candy--I don't remember fancy family dinners or anything, just the bunny and the egg hunt in the morning. Chanukah involved gifts, but the part that really stood out for me was the lighting of the menorah and the singing of the blessings. And the focus of Christmas was pretty evenly divided between gifts and a big family dinner.

Torsten grew up with Christian parents, one Catholic and one Protestant, but neither devout. They celebrated Christmas and Easter. No Jewish holidays, obviously.

We will definitely celebrate Christmas with our own kids, and Easter too, at least when they're little--though I'd like to involve a big family dinner and not just an egg hunt. I also want to celebrate Chanukah but I don't know the blessings and am a terrible singer, so I think I will leave it to my mother to teach the blessing to our kids.

But then there are other Jewish holidays and traditions that we'd like to incorporate into our kids' lives, even though neither of us is religious at all. I always felt a little awkward about only celebrating Chanukah, which is actually a minor Jewish holiday and really has only gained prominence because of its proximity to Christmas, as far as I can tell. Yom Kippur is the most important of the Jewish holidays, but it's a somber holiday requiring repenting and, traditionally, fasting, and I have to say that I'm not really interested in celebrating that with my kids.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, which is nice, but as far as I can tell it just involves a day of rest, which is not the kind of thing that your kids will really remember fondly, you know? And there aren't many other Jewish holidays that I even know about.

So, that leaves Passover. I've participated in seders before, and I think they're really fun and memorable and exactly the kind of tradition I'd like to build with my own kids. Not so much the religious aspects, namely the studying of the Haggadah, but the big, long meal with friends and family and very specific food and drink associated with it. Basically, like special Jewish Thanksgiving. I like that. And I think we'll try to do that when we have kids.

But the other thing that Torsten brought up, that I thought was really lovely, was the idea of the Sabbath dinner every Friday night. He has a close Jewish friend with whom he lived for a few months, and they always had Sabbath dinner on Friday nights, and it's something that he remembers very fondly. It was a time for people to put the stress in their lives aside and just sit down and have a relaxed, peaceful dinner. It was a time to eat good food, forget about the work week, and catch up with people that you might not get to see as much as you like. I am definitely on board with that.

But what I'm wondering is, who will we have Sabbath dinner with? Maybe we'll make friends with our neighbors, or maybe meet some parents when we have kids of our own? Because right now we really don't know many people in Denver, and while so far that hasn't bothered me, it does make me a little sad to think that I would hardly know who to invite if we were to host a Sabbath dinner. And they don't necessarily have to be Jewish, either.

But I suppose that will come with time. And in the meantime, I can teach myself to make matzoh balls, or something. Or focus on saving enough money to buy a dining room table up to the task of holding Sabbath dinner to begin with.

What about you? What holidays did you celebrate growing up? And which do/will you celebrate with your own kids?


  1. The other thing about Passover? Some Christian faiths celebrate it, too. I know Sweets' parents' church has a sedar every year.

    Growing up with two not-very-religious Jewish parents, we celebrated Chanukah and osbserved Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But, we also celebrated Christmas with the same family friends every year.

    For both Sweets and me, the holidays are more about the traditions we establish with family and friends and less about the religious importance of those days.

  2. I'm sure you'll have tons of friends by the time you're ready to host dinners! :)
    We celebrated the regular holidays I guess. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter being the big 3 with Halloween and New Year's close behind. The big 3 always involved a large family gathering of some sort. It makes me sad that we live too far away from family to give our kids that. :(

  3. Also, every Catholic church I've belonged to has a Seder meal.

  4. I was raised Lutheran but am no longer Christian, and have no interest in raising my kids with religion (well, at least not organized religion).

    I've thought a lot about how I'll celebrate Christmas with my kids. I hate the holiday. To be more exact, I hate the materialism that comes with it. In my family, it's traditional to have a big family dinner and then go to church, but I now feel like a fraud going to church. I think I'll just go away every Christmas--that way I can escape its unsavory parts, and the fact that I'm no longer religious while my family very much is.

  5. we are raising our kids christian and will celebrate easter and christmas with my family. however, while our kids won't go to high holy day services with my husband for yom kippur or rosh hashana, we will go to his family's seder and celebrate hannukah with them.

  6. Homer is Jewish and I am Christian (Protestant). Even though he grew up celebrating all the Jewish holidays, and still considers himself Jewish, we don't celebrate any of the Jewish holidays with our kids. He has very little contact with his family and he doesn't know enough about the traditions to share them. We do all the Christian holidays with my side of the family.

  7. We celebrated lots of holidays when we were little and always got together with extended family for Mother's Day or Father's Day or for Grama & Grampa's birthdays. I loved it because we didn't live particularly close to our cousins.
    I'm looking forward to being able to do that again after we move (three weeks!).
    I'm Christian and I've celebrated Passover before too - it was really memorable and a special time.
    I have a friend who celebrates a ton of small-ish holidays with her kids - I'd love to be able to do that some day but I fear I'm not quite organized enough. :)

  8. I just wanted to throw in another suggestion for a Jewish holiday to celebrate with your kids that I think sounds pretty fun- Purim. It's basically commemorating the story of Esther, who saved her people from annihilation at the hands of the Persians. Which sounds a little grim, actually, but every Jewish person I've heard describe it makes it seem kind of like Halloween- everyone dresses up, and you have a themed meal/party, and everyone delivers baskets of goodies to all their friends and family.

  9. You need to take a class, or read a few books about Judaism before you start teaching children these traditions. Nothing could be worse than misinforming them about what you're doing, it's better to not incorporate them into your family life. You don't have to sing the blessings, you can say them, but you should take agency and teach them what it is that you're doing and why you're doing it. There's no reason you shouldn't be comfortable with what you do in terms of any religious tradition but you also need to educate yourself before you pass it on to any future children. These rituals have been important to people for thousands of years and diluting them in that way not only does a disservice to your family, but it is insulting. Even if you have the best of intentions, treating the rituals like this isn't fair, especially if you're not completely informed about what it is you're doing. I am not implying that you have to keep Kosher or believe in God, lord knows I don't, but doing things because they seem nice or fun doesn't actually help anyone. I was raised a reform Jew by a Jewish mother and Protestant father and while my family didn't do all of the rituals by any means, I knew all about what it was we were doing and why it was important. Inform yourself thoroughly about what you'd be doing and then decide what is right for you.

  10. My mother is Sikh, my Dad's Hindu, my sister and I went to a Catholic school all our lives and we livedin Iraq for 2 years in the 80s. We knew a lot about the other religions but we basically only celebrated Diwali, the Hindu celebration of lights (and sort of new year).

    Last year was the first year, I did both a Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas dinner. This year, I think I will add Diwali celebrations to the mix as well. I'd like my children to know and grow up as culturally diverse as my parents tried to make us.

    My favorite holiday would still ahve to be Halloween :-D

  11. I completely agree with the anonymous poster above. Educating yourself and your future children is essential. Although my Jewish education did not focus on strict religious observance, I was certainly taught the importance and background of each and every holiday. Thus, I was somewhat offended by the idea articulated in your post of just picking and choosing holidays to celebrate based on whether or not you like them or believe your children will like them. I think that such a practice has the potential to leave your children confused and ill-informed, as well as to detract from the significance and context of centuries of religious practice. If you decide that "standard" religious practices are not relevant to your life, that is one thing. If you decide to take element a from one religion and element b from another and modify them all to suit your individual purposes, that is something else altogether.

  12. The Denver JCC (I just googled it) looks GREAT--a gym, lots of youth activities including baby programs and day care and camps, and events targeted at young professionals. http://www.jccdenver.org/...it might be a great place to check out! If you decide you want to become more involved, they can probably advise you about good temples and such.

    Since it sounds like you're more familiar with Christian holidays, this series of books might be a good place to start learning about Jewish ones: http://www.amazon.com/Jewish-Holidays-Brief-Introduction-Christians/dp/1580233023/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239720671&sr=1-4

    I also love this website: http://www.jewfaq.org/toc.htm

    Good luck! I think raising a kid to admire and understand both parents' backgrounds is a great thing to do--it's easy to just soak up Christian culture since it's all around, but Judaism takes a little extra work. I teach 2nd grade Hebrew School and there are many kids from interfaith families--it works out just fine.

  13. I grew up catholic with Jewish heritage. My dad converted back to be a Jew when I was 13. We celebrated Christmas, Easter. I will definitely celebrate these with my kids. My son already understands hanukah and kwanza thanks to a holiday blues clues special. I think it is good to grow up around both faiths bc it makes you open minded and keeps you open to the pros of both.

    Holidays are wonderful! Enjoy!

  14. I agree with the commenter who pointed out Purim - there's always a carnival and the Hamentashen cookies are DELICIOUS!

    There are ways to make Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays that kids remember. For me, growing up, it was never the temple services as much as it was the day at the park with other kids my age and then the big dinner at the end with my family (since you're not allowed to drive during Yom Kippur). I loved those memories - also, some of the traditions are downright yummy - like apples and cinnamon for a sweet new year.

    Passover of course, is always fun. The kiddy Hagaddah we used had a song about frogs, which would make my cousins and I giggle nonstop.

    But I do like Torsten's suggestion of Shabbat. Shabbat dinners can be quite lovely and simple - maybe look into a few books, talk to a few Jewish friends. There's no saying you need to do things exactly the way everyone else does - make your own traditions, just understand why they are there in the first place.

  15. It's a very big decision - how to incorporate religion (or religions!) into your lives - especially once you have children.

    It's best to pick a path with a clear message, and one you can stick to. Continuity is very important. If religion can change suddenly, liking picking after-school activities, it hardly seems important anymore.

    If you're only looking to celebrate holidays, I fear the true meaning and importance of them will shrivel. Especially Jewish holidays, which have not been corrupted by commercialism. They require a delicate touch. Most Jewish children celebrate holidays with a rich understanding of the history and how their religion mirrors their family's origins. I think missing out on that story steals away the sense of community these holidays are supposed to bring.

    It may be the norm to reduce Christian holidays down to bare-bones and trinkets, but this just isn't true for Jewish holidays. I think it's one of their charms that keeps Judaism so close to my heart.

  16. I grew up in a large mormon family of 6 kids, with a single mom who also happens to be the best preschool teacher ever born. As such, our holidays were full of tradition as much as anything else. The traditions mostly helped keep things fair with all the kids (same amount of eggs to hunt on easter, chocolate coins to find on st. patricks) and helped us have a sense of schedule about the whole thing (each kid opens one present while the rest wait so that it lasts longer and isn't chaos)

    We celebrated every holiday that we could, and mom really made them special with all the traditional songs and actions and candies and smiles. I still look back fondly on each holiday and am hoping I can pass that along to my kids so that they can have as fond of memories as I do.

  17. Sorry I didn't have time to read the comments this time, so hopefully not being too repetitive:

    If you're not religious, why do the traditions you build with your children need to be? It's fine to celebrate religious holidays in a non-religious way, of course, but if you're looking to build your own traditions, I see no reason why they need to be founded in some religious faith.

    I was raised religious but no longer believe the things I was taught, although I credit my religious upbringing with deeply shaping who I am, and because I enjoy it I still attend church and participate in the community even though I no longer believe in the details. I do believe it is important to raise children to at least know what religion is, as it is a very important thing for heritage and understanding the society you live in and how you relate to it and where other people are coming from when they talk about various religious traditions...but...if those traditions don't mean anything to you, then I still don't understand why you would create NEW traditions for yourselves and your kids based on religious holidays.

    I'd say, continue the traditions you loved growing up with, and if you want to add more, make them specific to your own family. Celebrate the day you moved into your house, or make Friday night dinner a special time, but it doesn't have to be related to Judaism. Celebrate the Summer Solstice or the first Monday of every month or the First Day of Spring or Groundhog's Day or something...I don't know. I don't really have a specific reason NOT to, but it just doesn't make sense to me to start a new religious tradition when you're not religious. Why not call it what it is, a FAMILY tradition? No need to add the extra baggage.

    On a totally contradictory note, I always thought the Indian holiday Diwali sounded like a really good time. If you're going for random religious affiliation, I vote for that one.

  18. Interesting comments!!!

    My dad is a non-practicing Jew and my mom is one of those serious Catholics who don't like to talk about touchy feely things like faith. We were raised Catholic, but we did have Hanukkah for a few years when I was little (and my parents had a Hanukkah party every year for their friends instead of a Christmas party, which I think is awesome.) I think more than celebrating holidays, it's been beneficial to just talk to my dad about his experience with religion and the Jewish faith, why he doesn't practice, etc. And then being JEWISH, I mean there's a LOT that comes with that. Relatives with numbers tattooed on their arms, not having any idea where the family is from because everyone who knew was killed, the heritage stuff. I learned most of those things from my dad's sister. ANYWAY. So I am not JEWISH, but I do think of myself of having "Jewish" in me, you know? And it's been important to me to know those things about my family. My poor little half Chinese half Eastern European Peasant children. They are going to be so confused.

  19. See I love any holiday where I can test my willpower and deprive myself of food...wait, that sounds a little sick. What I like and still embrace (as a single adult) about Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah is the idea of reflecting over the year you've just experienced. I also loved a friend of a friend's annual break-fast with tons of food and friends because it was multi-generational and festive (and often the only time all year I got to eat good noodle kugel).

    And if you're looking to learn to make something your kids will enjoy, I vote for Challah. What says love more than homemade bread?

  20. I grew up with non-religious folks too (Anglican and non-denominational Christian) and was way behind on the celebration front with Christmas and Easter as gift/ food holidays and not much else.

    I'm a little jealous of my friends who got to go to midnight mass - what kid doesn't like to stay up late? And Passover seders I've attended were always a wonderful time.

    I guess I'll have to defer what to celebrate with the kids until I know who I'm having them with...

  21. My family is not Jewish, and we still try to celebrate Passover (although some years are more successful than others.)

    I plan on celebrating all major holidays, religious and otherwise, with my kids. We try to teach them the history behind the holiday, but incorporate our own traditions into each holiday.

    And really, it is just another excuse to get together with friends.

  22. Do these traditions necessarily have to be religious? My family always had a period during the summer where my dad would make these big breakfasts and we would all sit around the living room discussing how the first half of the year (or previous school year) went and what we hoped for the next. It wasn't religious, but it was a nice tradition.

    We always saw extended family for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter, but honestly it wasn't so much religious for us as an excuse to get together.

    Now, for me it kind of feels disrespectful to the people who really take it seriously for us to say we're celebrating it, but not going to church or focusing on the reason.

    For that reason, I agree with the anonymous commenters that if you are going to teach the prayers and meanings and such, you should make sure you really are getting it right.

  23. I think the idea of choosing which holidays you want your kids to experience is pretty cool. Am a bit jealous you have both Jewish and Christian heritage(s). ;) I only had the Catholic/Christian holidays, myself, although in my Catholic school (in a very small Southern town with no Jewish people that I know of) we did celebrate an annual Passover meal, and it is one of my fondest childhood religious memories. (I'm sure it was modified, I know they didn't include any of the Hebrew, but still.)

    I LOVE the idea of the Friday Sabbath meal. Do it.

  24. I find this fascinating. What is your purpose in celebrating these holidays about which you (apparently) have little knowledge and few ties? It sounds to me like your real intention is to have traditions that celebrate food and family and less to observe the actual holidays (for instance - I get that Yom Kippur is a somber holiday...but it's also pretty important if you're Jewish, and part of being Jewish is having that Day of Atonement, from what I hear...so are you really teaching your kids about Judiasm if you skip over the less pleasant ones?). Why not just have Regular Family Game Night or something? I always loved going over to my friend Meg's house for Lubozynski Family Dinner & Game Night on Fridays, and even when we were in high school, it was understood that Megan couldn't go out until AFTER Family Dinner, so we'd all just go over there first instead.

    Anyway - obviously, do what you want - I'm just a bit perplexed!

  25. I agree with the commenters who talked about making non-religious traditions if things like family dinners are what you want to enjoy. If you were raised Jewish or Judaism was meaningful to you, I could see incorporating those traditions, but if not, I don't really understand the point of (as some people already sort of alluded to) cherry-picking the religious holidays you do and do not want to observe. That's just me, though. We all have our different reasons for doing different things. It just sounds like what interests you more is the tradition of family time together than on the religious significance of it, so I guess I just think you should focus on that.

    You've got some time to think about this, of course. No babies in the immediate future, right? That's what you keep telling us? :-)

  26. It's interesting that you bring this up, because I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I'm going through some deep and profound things regarding my spirituality and beliefs, and I'm finding that they're really not all that aligned with how I was raised. I believe I'll continue to celebrate Christmas, because of the community/family aspect of it, but feel absolutely no ties to Christianity whatsoever. I think the traditions I celebrate with my family one day will be those we've built together, and that's something I'm really looking forward to.

  27. In our family, we celebrate Chanukah, even though we have no Jewish roots. I tell my kids that it is about family time and being thankful when good things happen unexpected. We have celebrated Diwali as well as the other more mainstream Christian holidays.

    We ascribe to the life philosophy that all knowledge is superior to ignorance. I would take umbrage with anyone who said that us honoring other cultures to the best of our abilities, albeit not perfectly, is wrong and our family would do better not to celebrate at all.

  28. Like a couple of other commenters, I was raised loosely religiously (Anglican) but have since stopped believing. My partner was raised very strictly religious with the result that he's now quite anti-religion. We'd like to raise our children knowing about many religions but not celebrating any, until/unless they later choose to.

    We would still exchange gifts and spend time with extended family at Christmas (as we do now), and take part in neighbourhood events like egg-rolling at Easter. Plus there's New Year, which is non-religious and a lot of fun. And there's tons of local festivals every year. We're lucky enough to live in a vibrant city (Bristol, UK) where there's street performance festivals, food festivals, a balloon fiesta, a kite festival, child-friendly music festivals, a big carnival...all sorts. They tend to be at the same time every year so they can be a regular thing to look forward to. I really can't wait to take my kids to see circus performers on an open-air stage and then let them loose in the play area to grapple with juggling clubs and mini stilts. Brilliant!