Tag Archives: hanukkah

Religion-Hopping In Adulthood: A Tale Of Guilt and Gelt

According to a new poll taken by the Pew Forum, Americans are mixing faiths more than ever before. Many attend worship services of more than one denomination, and many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation and astrology. This follows on an earlier survey showing that Americans also change religion in adulthood with increasing regularity.

To which I say:  guilty as charged. We celebrate Hanukkah in our household and Christmas at my Mother’s. Yesterday, I went to a Hanukkah party and sang along (semi-credibly) as the candles were lit; next weekend, I’ll be singing Christmas carols in Belsize Square.

I’ve tried to resist this whole wishy-washy, neither-fish-nor-fowl approach to religion (and we all know what Jesus would prefer). Like Kristen over on Motherese, I’m also a once-religious Catholic now married to a Jew. I, too,  feel badly as I confront the inevitable December Dilemma which plagues all couples choosing a religious path for their mixed families. I worry that my kids aren’t getting the sort of firm anchoring in tradition, identity and beliefs that I had growing up.

But despite all the guilt and accompanying feelings that I *should* “figure out religion” or join a synagogue, somehow those never quite manage to make their way up the ladder of my to-do list.

And so, in the spirit of “eliminating the shoulds,” this year I’m trying to accept that for now – at least – I’m a sampler of religions, not a practitioner. I am, in fact, that dreaded “consumer of religion” which one religious studies scholar bemoaned in the Wall Street Journal. And I’m trying to embrace my dabbling tendencies where religion is concerned, and enjoy them, rather than feeling guilty.

After all, my kids seem totally comfortable with their faux-Jewish identities. They have no concept of the fact that because I’m not Jewish, they really aren’t either. They are proud to call themselves Jews, and to celebrate Christmas in a sort of ad-hoc way. As for me, for the first time in many years, I find myself actually wanting to go listen to some religious Christian music this holiday season (something I was dragged to on many an occasion in my youth.) So when I saw a sign at the local (Anglican) parish for a Festival of Lessons and Carols, I thought:  Why not?

So guilt, shmilt.

And speaking of which, my favorite holiday story this season comes from a (non-Jewish) friend of mine whose 4 year-old daughter was so eager to celebrate Hanukkah that she instructed her mother to rush out and buy some “guilt.” (She meant gelt.) To which my friend was tempted to reply “Oh, honey, I think we have enough guilt in the house already…don’t you?”

And how.

Image: Nes gadol hayah sham by techne via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Buy Holiday Gifts For Kids

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, tis’ the season and all that. Unfortunately, the impending holidays don’t seem like they’re a source of much good cheer this year. Instead, when I scanned my Facebook account this morning, one friend talked about how much she hates Christmas shopping, while another openly voiced a concern about *how many*gifts were appropriate for her two kids. I was so stressed out that I bought all my presents in November.

Gift-giving can be overwhelming, particularly during a recession. And, not surprisingly, this year many have opted to give no gifts at all.

But if, like me, you’re dead set on buying presents – at least for your kids – here are five tips to make that experience less stressful (I’ll do adults next week):

1. Figure out what they want, what they need, and what’s appropriate. Remember those Venn Diagrams they used to make us draw back in elementary school? You know, the ones with the overlapping circles? That’s what you need to do with kids’ gifts. Figure out the intersection of their wants, their needs and what you can live with, and you can easily eliminate some alleged “must haves.” To wit: my son desperately wants a video game this Christmas. And needless to say, the more violent the better. But we’ve been trying to reduce his time on the computer, not encourage it. So rather than pull a total Scrooge, I emailed a friend of mine with older boys and asked her to recommend a non-violent and yet sufficiently absorbing game that would satisfy his needs to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but without shooting anyone along the way. She came back to me with  a game called Civilization, in which you adopt the persona of a historical character like Julius Caesar and basically try to take over the world. Done.

2. Figure out what you can afford. It’s so easy to get swept away in the tide of gift-giving that you forget to look at your wallet. But you don’t always have to spend a lot of money to make your kids happy. Take my daughter. This year, she decided that she wanted to start a collection of Sylvanian families. You know, those little mouse families and their teeny, tiny accoutrements? I was delighted: so small…so easy to store…so gentle! But those mice-y can be pretty price-y, if you buy, say, the Grand Hotel. In contrast, the blue twin-tub and ironing set? Not so much. Now, you’re talking…

3. Reframe things they need as things they want. Last year, I realized in early December that my son needed a new pair of gloves. Sure, I could have easily just gone to the Gap and bought him a pair of gloves. Instead, I decided to make them a present. Knowing, however, that no child ever wants to get something useful as a gift, I craftily re-packaged these gloves as “Keeper” (“Goalie”) gloves, even though they were really just fairly standard issue. But by catering to his abiding love of football, they instantly became his favorite gift!

4. Eight is Enough. We celebrate Hanukkah in our house, which automatically places a limit on the number of gifts you need to give out. (Hanukkah lasts 8 days). I recognize that eight presents may already seem ridiculously generous to some folks (and not nearly enough to others). But it works well for me because I also use the 8-day schedule to alternate large gifts with small (see below).

5. Stagger large gifts with smaller ones. I learned this tip from a friend of mine back before I even had kids. Her son was devastated when –  following some huge Lego contraption on the first and second nights of Hanukkah – all he got was a coloring book on the third. Thereafter, my friend learned that the key was  to alternate large and small from the get go, so that he understood that you don’t always land a Mercedes. This year I’ve actually purchased a chess board (yes, just the board!) as one of my son’s gifts (something he needs – see #1), and will sandwich it between two large-ish gifts. You can also use this staggering principle with a holiday like Christmas or Eid, where you give all the gifts all at once.

Happy Shopping!

Image: Olympus E510 – Christmas 2007 012 by N!(K — loveforphotography — via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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