The holiday season is associated with both joy and, conversely, stress. Making plans with friends and getting together with family is challenging for a variety of reasons. What do you do when friends and family are of differing faiths, belief systems and traditions? Reframe what the holiday looks like and view it as a time to celebrate unity and good fellowship regardless of cultural background. The spirit of giving is at the heart of the holiday season and it’s the perfect time to give the gift of inclusion.
Holiday traditions do not need to be limited to only your faith. In my home we only celebrate Jewish holidays, but we gladly accept invitations to participate in friends’ traditions. I grew up helping my friends decorate their Christmas trees and we exchanged holiday gifts to celebrate our friendship. Now when my young family is invited to a tree trimming party, I gladly accept with excitement in my heart. It gives me an opportunity to relive a cherished part of my childhood, and to introduce different world holidays and traditions to my young daughters.
In the same vein, we share our holiday of Hanukkah by inviting friends to light the menorah, eat latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (round jelly doughnuts eaten during Hanukkah) during the eight days of Hanukkah.
When my oldest daughter started kindergarten last year, I learned she was the only Jewish student in her classroom. I asked her teacher if I could visit her class during the holiday season and share our Hanukkah traditions with her classmates. I brought dreidels for all the kids to play with and keep, and we played the dreidel game together. This year, I’ll visit her first grade class with our electric menorah so her classmates can experience “lighting” the menorah, too.
Similarly, you can craft your own new traditions. For example, the holiday season is synonymous with baked goods and sweets. (There’s a reason people make New Year’s resolutions about eating healthier!) Christmas cookie swaps are a great way to gather with friends. My best friend and I created a new tradition when we were in high school. We would spend a whole day baking all sorts of cookies together for the holidays. We would start picking out new cookie recipes to try and make sure we had all the ingredients, cookie cutters, sprinkles and frosting ready to go. One cookie always on the menu is rugelach, a traditional Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin (Eastern European). Bringing the food and flavors of my ancestry adds a meaningful element to our traditional cookie baking day.
Sharing traditions is not only entertaining, but it truly enhances the holiday spirit of giving, unity and goodwill.
Experiencing the wonder that every holiday offers and being inclusive, even if it is not your holiday, is key to true holiday happiness. Focus on doing something fun, special and unique to this time of year and enjoy being together.