Chanukah taught me that spending eight consecutive nights with your family is incredibly rare, incredibly difficult to organise, and incredibly beautiful.
It taught me that I don’t actually need all the gifts and celebrations which marked the holidays I celebrated in my “past life”, and that small, meaningful presents make me much happier than the drama of gift giving which surrounded previous years.
Above all, it taught me that with enough work and self reflection, I can make my own happiness.
Before Chanukah began, I wrote about my plans for the holiday. I had decided to do away with the fancy celebrations, expensive presents, and extravagant recipes. I wasn’t going to compete with the Perfect Women of Facebook, nor was I going to engage in the yearly contest of Keeping Up With the Cohens. Quite frankly, I’ve reached a point in my life where my daily activities- and religious observance- can no longer be influenced by these metaphorical Perfect People. I’ve had enough of them and the judgement they bring into my life. Instead, I set out to have a “homely” Chanukah, where I caught up with friends and family, davened by the menorah each night, and meditated upon the true meaning of the holiday.
Looking back on the past eight days, I think I did a pretty good job of it. I spent a lot more time- and a lot less money- than I have done on previous years, trying to make the festival meaningful. Usually, I fall flat on my face when I attempt to go all meaningful and spiritual with my family, but this year, it worked. Mostly, I decided that I was going to enjoy Chanukah and make myself happy, no matter how much work it took, and I found that if I really put my mind to it, I could actually do that.
Needless to say, this surprised me. I’m not a huge believer in positive thinking. I don’t think it’s the cure all, and in the past, when people have suggested it to me as a remedy for clinical mental illness, I may or may not have hit the metaphorical roof. But I found that when it comes to celebrations, it’s all about your expectations. Your enjoyment of a holiday is governed by how you decide you’re going to treat it. If I had planned a massive Chanukah celebration, or gifts and oily foods every night, I’d have been disappointed. I’d have probably ended up shouting at my family, throwing several plates of failed latkes away, and feeling like a total Failure. But I didn’t. I decided that this year, I’m going to treasure what I have- the lights of the menorah, my close family, and my best friends- and by making the most of these things, I found myself feeling content, and happy.
I’ve learned my lesson. No more throwing lavish dinners which I actually have no interest in just to impress people who don’t even like me. No more attempts to buy affection through pointless gifts. From now on, I’m doing the chagim just as we did Chanukah this year. And believe it or not, for the first time in my life, I’m actually looking forward to next Chanukah…