Tales from Mommyshorts: Creating Traditions From Scratch

While I am off freezing in the mountains with my family (okay, slightly exaggerated: they need snow and we basked on the sunny deck in T-shirts on Sunday – while the only sign of snow at our cabin was in the areas the sun couldn’t reach), I asked a few of my favorite bloggers to write guest posts.

Some begging may or may not have been involved.

Today’s guest wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into when I requested a post on holiday traditions.

You see, she’s Jewish. And I’m…. well, not Jewish.

I discovered Ilana at Mommyshorts over a year ago and I’ve been laughing ever since. We bonded over self-imposed sleep deprivation (I seriously have no idea how she accomplishes all she does).

She possesses a psychic ability to find soon-to-be viral adorable baby videos (which I then bookmark to show to Lil Diva), creates graphs and pie charts that leave my creative abilities in the dust, and founded mybabylookslike.com where proud parents can submit photos of their children and their celebrity counterparts.

Lil Diva channels Chucky.. a bit too well.

The resemblance is scary.

She is the one who told me my daughter could channel Chucky and insisted Lil Diva enter her Baby Glare Off Contest.

While Ilana’s comedic ability is indisputable, there are times when a writing prompt led to what she used to call “unhumorous land“. 

Or other times when she just can’t be funny because…well… she’s human.

They just make you love her more.

Today Ilana tells us the secret behind Jewish holidays, teaches us some Yiddish (sweet!), and remembers her childhood traditions – just in time to bring them back for her two year old.

Creating Traditions from Scratch

When Kelly asked me to write about my holiday traditions, I hesitated. Ummm… what if I don’t really have any holiday traditions?

I’m Jewish and I’m reform (reform being the least hardcore of the Jews), and I’m a bad reform Jew at that. And even if I was a very religious Jew, Hanukah is just not that major of a holiday. I celebrate Passover by drinking wine but not eating bread and I celebrate Rosh Hashanah by dipping challah in honey and I end every Yom Kippur fast with a big bagel. (It just occurred to me that every Jewish holiday is basically the celebration or denial of carbs.)

But I barely ever go to temple and I haven’t traded Hanukah gifts since I was about sixteen.

The biggest thing I do that signifies my Judaism during the holiday season is not having a Christmas tree. Or stockings or strands of little lights or wreaths or candles in the window. Well, except a menorah. If I remember to take it out. Which I didn’t last year.

It isn't just one day of gifts, but many.

It's all about the order... right?

But now that Mazzy is old enough to know what a present is— a very important milestone, I’m beginning to remember what a big deal Hanukah was to me as a kid. For one, I was CONVINCED that eight presents in eight days was just as good as an all at once present blowout on Christmas morning. Kudos to my mom for getting me to buy into that load of schtuss (bullshit in Yiddush).

I also thought latkes (carbs in the form of potato pancakes), gelt (chocolate coins) and dreidel (an excellent drinking game for the college set) were the recipe for an excellent party. And the thought that went into which present to open on which day was a science that I excelled at it. (You don’t want to get all your good gifts first and bigger isn’t always better so choosing can be tricky.)

But the holiday season meant way more for me than just Hanukah.

The Menorah - NYC style.

My mom used to take us on a road trip to see the best Christmas lights every year. This was a much bigger ordeal than you might think because we lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. There had to be sustenance and gas station bathroom breaks.

Also. Every year, my mom made us stand in the freezing cold on the lines for the Christmas windows at Saks, Lord & Taylor and Macy’s. All in one evening, one after the other. And the ride home would always consist of a thorough window critique to determine which store’s were the best.

On Christmas Eve, we would go to my Aunt & Uncle’s for dinner (my aunt is Catholic so there was a tree) and eat what I considered the finest side dish on earth— sweet potatoes in half a carved out orange peel with melted marshmallows on top. I’d have about five.

And on Christmas Day we would do what every other Jew in New York does, eat at a Chinese restaurant and see a movie.

So I suppose I should be thankful to Kelly for asking me to write this post because it turns out I have quite a few holiday traditions— they’ve just sat dormant for a while. And now that I have a family of my own, with a kid who is almost old enough to care, I am excited to share them with her.

Mazzy takes in a window display.

I’ll start with a single gift on December 21st. And seven more for each day of Hanukah after that.

If all goes well, she’ll never know she’s missing out because she doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Just like me.

 * * *

Ilana – We did the Chinese for dinner two years ago for Christmas when a slow cooker cooked a bit too slow. 

Chinese food sounds really good right now. I wonder if they’re open on Christmas Eve…

Thank you so much for guest posting.


About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos (www.writingwithchaos.com) sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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8 Responses to Tales from Mommyshorts: Creating Traditions From Scratch

  1. ocdtalk says:

    I really enjoyed this post Ilana…Also being Jewish, my childhood Chanukahs sound a lot like yours (though I didn’t grow up in NY). Even though I lived in a predominantly Christian neighborhood, I never felt like I was missing out. A lot of the times it was the opposite, with my friends saying they wished they could get eight days of presents. Of course they didn’t know that my daily presents consisted of things like a tiny tot stapler (staples included), a handful of gelt (chocolate), a pair of mittens, and the like……..it was all very low key. Hmm, maybe not such a bad idea…..

    • Mommy Shorts says:

      I love the idea of little thoughtful gifts too. I remember at a certain point my mother gave me the choice of one big gift or eight little gifts and I couldn’t bear to part with opening a different gift each night. We settled on one medium gift and seven even littler gifts. Hanukah remained in tact!

  2. Ilana,
    You are the only person I know whose holiday traditions involve gas station bathroom breaks; but I love your take on the subject.

    It’s wonderful when the memories of your past can be shared with your future: Mazzy.
    And for Christmas this year, I’m going to wish for sweet potatoes in a carved-out orange peel with melted marshmallows on top.

    Five of them, in fact.

    • Mommy Shorts says:

      They are beyond delicious. Half an orange, clean out the insides but make sure you squeeze the juice into the mashed sweet potato. Then plop it in the peel, add copious amounts of cinnamon, way more marshmallows than necessary and BAKE.

  3. Ester Jean says:

    We are not Jewish, but didn’t celebrate Christmas growing up. 1. It’s my dad’s birthday, 2. He was a pretty strict religious person, who didn’t believe Christmas trees or gift-giving had a thing to do with Jesus’ birth (which he believed to be in October), and 3. he didn’t believe children need another day to become spoiled. We never felt like we missed much. We did have an extra nice dinner and sang Christmas carols together after Dad opened his birthday presents. My favorite part of Christmas diner (and Thanksgiving) is also the sweet potato “casserole,” though ours is crushed pineapple in lieu of orange, and not in an orange peel – yours sounds prettier 🙂

    Now that I’m a married grown-up, expecting my first child (and my husband’s family is super Christian holidays! …I mean like decorations for every single holiday in every single room of the house), I am trying to create new traditions that will be meaningful to our new family. Thanks for sharing! I am following a few Jewish bloggers and it made me interested enough to spend 3 hours on “Judaism 101” the other day, doing research. Jewish traditions seem to be rooted in more meaning than …others 🙂 I won’t name names. haha

  4. Ester Jean says:

    I forget how creepy smiley faces look until after I post them…

  5. Well that sounds nice!! I am a horrible catholic too, and become much more interested when it’s the holidays….I mean who really has time to go to temples and churches these days????


  6. I love your blog. I’m also a reform Jew and find this stuff hilarious. Chabad has a huge menorah they light at Westgate, like the one in New York City…I love it. And the elf posts….I laughed so hard I could pee.

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