Holidays Shmolidays

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:


Sufganiyot (doughnuts!)


making dough with Ben


After Ben’s Chanukah performance at school


little dreidel




The second night of Chanukah


Spinning dreidels with Grandkath via Skype


Getting ready for Mexicanukah


hey that’s MY hat!


The 8th night

What are your favorite holiday memories and how do you celebrate now?


11 thoughts on “Holidays Shmolidays

  1. So proud,honored, and privileged to share the traditions you are creating with your own beautiful family.
    Your loving mother

  2. Beautiful post, Caitlin! I really hope you will write about your journey to “becoming” Jewish. I’m not sure I know this story!
    My favorite holiday memories are also Thanksgiving. My mom and dad, though they are divorced, have celebrated Thanksgiving together with us for the past 10 or 15 years. It wasn’t always the case and I’m glad that we can do it now, that they can sit down as friends with their children and grandchildren all together.

  3. What a joy to read your work…I posted a comment after your first one, but I don’t think it was received. In short it said that in addition to all your other lovely qualities, who knew you were also a wonderful writer! Your pieces come alive 😉

  4. We will have to make sufganiyot ourselves this year but will will light a beer bottle menorah in your honor. We missed you at our thanksgiving table and gave a “Mo” shout-out every once in a while. sending lots of light from the holyland…. We love and miss u.

  5. Thanks for you comment on my post today!! How interesting that you also “chose” Judaism, as I did 20(!!) years ago. For me, following the annual cycle has been a discipline of about the past 12 years, i estimate. This most recent High Holiday season was the first time that I started to really feel like the melodies and traditions were sinking in and displacing the tunes and traditions of my protestant upbringing. You say you celebrate with food – I love to cook, as well, but my spiritual expression has always been musical. I look forward to reading more of your story…

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