Those of you who use social media are probably inundated with Facebook posts, Instagram photos, and witty tweets capturing the magic of Chanukah. Between recipes, adverts, and countless photos of other people’s cooking, it’s easy to feel panicked by the rapidly approaching holiday. But maybe, you don’t have to feel this way.
Every year, I say the same things to myself. This year, I won’t run myself into debt buying Chanukah gifts and food. This year, I won’t worry about the little things like menus and table decorations. This year, I’ll appreciate the fact that Chanukah is a meaningful holiday and not simply synonymous with gifts and food. And every year, I find myself running around like a headless chicken, tearing my hair out over how much money I’ve spent and the fact that all the other women on Facebook have already started cooking for *next* Chanukah and here I am without even a menu plan to my name.
Then this year, I decided that I was going to start doing Chanukah differently.
I looked at what had made the previous Chanukahs so difficult- miserable, even- for me. I think I spent too much money trying to win the affection of those around me, I realised. Chanukah isn’t really about gifts, and I was attempting to use gifts to make my family and friends choose Chanukah over the “other December holiday”, perhaps even trying to get them to like me more.
Then there was the food. All the time spent cooking “traditional” dishes which my family didn’t actually like. Day after day, year after year, they pushed my latkes around their plates before discreetly throwing them away, on top of whatever else it was I had laboured over in the hope that just this once, we’d have a “proper Chanukah”.
It followed the same pattern every year. I would begin Chanukah super organised, telling myself that this year, it would all go according to plan and I would have a happy family and a perfect Chanukah. By day three, I would have given up on the whole idea and spend the rest of the week alone, often in bed, crying about how it “all went wrong”. Some people just don’t learn. Until this year. This year, I learnt.
I learnt that no matter how much money I spend, it’s up to my family and friends whether or not they want to celebrate Chanukah. It’s no good plying people with gifts in an attempt to change their minds. I learnt that it wasn’t my job to prepare beautiful traditional dishes like the other women on Facebook did, if it came at the cost of shalom bayis and my own happiness. And above all, I learnt that a large part of my enjoyment of Chanukah came from who I spent it with.
When I cut my Chanukah gift budget in half, I also cut off the people who made the holiday stressful. Because, despite the number of times I told myself that true happiness came from within, and that Chanukah isn’t supposed to be this materialistic, I realised that it’s pretty much impossible to be happy when your efforts are being thrown back in your face. And when I took this step, and made plans with genuinely good people, I found that for the first time in my life I was genuinely looking forward to Chanukah.
Next week, you’ll find me with the people who truly care, as I look into the flickering lights of the Menorah and realise how lucky I am. Because even though Chanukah commemorates a certain miracle of oil, there’s no reason why I can’t recall the other miracles in my life- including the fact that this year, I won’t have to make latkes…