All filled up with love and loneliness, I’m hanging on to these Brussels sprouts like tiny life rafts in a flood of memories. I think for most of us, the fall and winter holidays bring memories from our childhood up to the surface. For me, these feelings are sometimes complicated because they belong to a cultural context I am no longer a part of. I followed my heart to become Jewish, and in my deep soul memory I always feel at home in our yearly cycle of beautiful holidays. I truly feel like now I have an embarrassment of riches, between all the meaningful celebrations, deeply felt occasions for mourning and honoring the past, and the weekly gift of Shabbat. I think the reason I’m feeling so bittersweet on Thanksgiving is a feeling that many of us have as we grow older, nostalgia for past experiences that cannot be recreated, and a sometimes sad twinge as we look at childhood through our adult eyes.
Growing up, my family celebrated both the secular and religious aspects of the standard Christian set of holidays. My mom has a real knack for magical thinking, so, for example, I believed in Santa until I was twelve. (Mom, please don’t take this admission as an invitation for embarrassing stories in the comments!) On Christmas Eve we went to church for midnight mass where the singing and candles brought warm fuzzies to my heart. I woke up Christmas morning to beautiful presents under a real tree that filled our house with that amazing piney scent. Now I see Christmas as a nice time of year to be around, but I honestly don’t miss it. However, Thanksgiving is the one day a year when I get to hold on to my childhood memories and not feel like they are out of place. It is a bit of a mixed up feeling for me.
When I was very young, Thanksgiving meant that my mom’s brothers would come stay with us with their girlfriends and there would suddenly be a houseful of interesting adults for me to follow around and chat with. I am an only child, so this was especially exciting! Over the years my uncles got married and spent holidays with their in laws. When I was older my parents had separated and I was left to find a place in a spread out family.
I guess growing older always changes our view of magical childhood experiences, until we create new ones with our own families. For me, the recreation began six years ago when I started following the yearly cycle of Jewish holidays. The past six years have been incredibly exciting, uncomfortable, and heart-achingly beautiful as I create entirely new holiday patterns and experiences. I feel that I have found my place in a religion that I belong in, even without the sweet pangs of childhood reminiscence. As I flow through the calendar of celebration and remembrance, I can only imagine that it must be nice to smell a certain food cooking at a certain time of year and be overwhelmed with the sense of time and space only a deep memory can offer us. However, I have been through the rotation of holidays enough that I am starting to have comforting, familiar feelings of my own, and I know any sweetness I create will be my children’s to take with them. Mo offers us a foundation in “scope and sequence” (teacher joke), but because cooking is my strong suit, my contribution is largely through food. I may feel a little mixed up at this time of year, but I just have to step into the kitchen to find my place. Sufganiyot at our annual Mexicanukah party are up next on the roster, and let me just say, after last year’s strawberry short cake doughnuts with homemade whipped cream, I can’t wait!
Here are some photos from Chanukah last year:
What are your favorite holiday memories and how do you celebrate now?