Have Yourself a Merry Little Chrismukkah

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Chrismukkah: It’s always been my favorite holiday.

Chrismukkah giftsMy favorite memory of Christmas as a grown-up is about a gift, which is silly because isn’t that the opposite of what we try to teach our kids about the holiday season? I don’t think I had kids yet, though, or at least not kids who were old enough to understand anything beyond shiny shiny shiny eat the paper TREE BRANCH, which is what I imagine a baby’s internal holiday monologue to be.

My family has always celebrated Hanukkah (my mom’s side) and Christmas (my dad’s). That’s why the December holidays will always be Chrismukkah in my book. When I was a kid, holidays were about 8 days of presents at my house and a delightful Christmas Eve toy binge with cousins at my grandparents’ house. The adults drank Tom and Jerries and played euchre while the kids stomped through a living room filled ankle-deep with gift wrap remnants and played with our new toys, high on sugar cookies and Seven Up and the strange chemistry of 7 kids all the same ages dressed in our scratchy, poufy best.

As we grew up, lost our grandparents, and saw our cousins less frequently, we still spent the holiday season together, but it was always very low-key, just me, my two brothers, our significant others, and my parents. I think that’s why this one, particular Christmas stands out—because it was completely ordinary and also a reminder of the noisy ghosts of Christmases past.

The Perfect Chrismukkah:

My dad was clearly in charge of gifting this particular year because everyone got the same thing—a manila envelope crammed with scratch-off lottery tickets. At first we all sort of looked at each other, sitting in a circle in my parents’ basement. My mom kind of shrugged, rolled her eyes, and tried to interest us in the Christmas-tree shaped chopped liver mold she made and decorated with hard-boiled egg garland and olive ornaments. My dad, though, looked pleased with himself and passed everyone a nickel. And then? It was ON. The only noises in the room were the scrunch of envelopes, the crinkle of tickets ripped apart, the scratch of coin against cardboard, and the furious wiping and blowing of shavings.

We exclaimed! We groaned! We tossed losing tickets to the floor and made a stack of winners. All six of us were kids again, hunched over our piles, that excited, greedy little glimmer in our eyes as we compared results and oohed and aahed with one another.

I don’t know what made this experience so magical.

Maybe I like a lot of something. Maybe it was the paper at my feet and the frenzied energy of all of us about the same ages, dressed in fancy clothes, playing with our new toys that brought me back to my grandma’s house so many years ago.

I think my husband was the only one of us to win any money, which surely annoyed my brothers. He immediately spent it all and then some on the Illinois riverboat casino that used to move through the Peoria sludge but now just bobs on top of it, proud despite the squalor into which it threatens to descend. Maybe there’s a metaphor there for how to deal with our families over the holidays. Float above the nasty stuff and try to give everyone the gift of remembering what it feels like to be a little kid on a holiday morning.

When you are a kid on Chrismukkah

You aren’t worried about how the breakfast will turn out. You don’t care how much money is left in your piggy bank after your present splurges. Bows and tissue paper all over the carpet and couch arms just look festive, and you don’t care how many chocolate suckers disappear before 8 am. Remember the wild abandon with which you tore into your pile? The wonder when you realized someone was listening to your deepest wishes and fulfilled them— not with the things in the boxes but through the people in the room. They’re the people who have known you the longest and the best, and when you are a little kid you know without realizing its profundity that your family-filled, paper-strewn living room is magic.

Holidays with little kids? They are the happy golden days we’ll sing about for the rest of our lives. This holiday season, challenge yourself to treat the big people in your lives to the same kind of wonder and delight you try to bring to your children. That’s the winning ticket for a merry little Chrismukkah.

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