2018 was a year filled with a great deal of change and that included changes in holiday traditions. The CreativeMornings RVA talk on Dec. 14 was on tradition - transforming old ones and creating new ones. It is exciting to transform and create new traditions and yet I don't want to minimize the grief that can come with letting some traditions go - even for the best of reasons.
It is nearly a year since I told my spouse that I wanted to separate and divorce. This was not an easy decision or one I took lightly. It was long a time coming and I knew I was hurting her terribly. Yet I also knew in the deepest part of my being that it was absolutely the right thing and what I had to do. It has been a year of navigating living arrangements, dating, hurt feelings, finding new ways to still be a family while not being a couple.
In addition, I completed my conversion to Judaism. My Beit Den and immersion in the Mikveh was the most life-altering and transforming experience of life, second only to becoming a mother. A friend had suggested journaling for the week leading up to my immersion on the days of Creation along with saying goodbye to my old self. I let go of my old self and truly began a new book of my life. It is said in Judaism that when you immerse in the mikveh as a convert, you receive your Jewish soul. That is exactly what happened. Reading from the Book of Ruth and hearing my Hebrew name used for the first time, brought me to tears of joy and belonging.
So what happens to all the traditions associated with the December holidays when one is separated, dating, living with someone new, and now officially Jewish. Last December, I celebrated Hanukkah with my spouse and daughter, and then Christmas with them. This year Hanukkah was early and I celebrated with the new person in my life, his child, my daughter, and her boyfriend. Then celebrated a rather low key Christmas morning with boyfriend and child, followed by an afternoon joined by my daughter of the American Jewish tradition of a movie and Chinese food. I found myself both happy and sad. It was a joy to celebrate Hanukkah and introduce people to new traditions. Yet I also found myself missing the traditions of the past.
New traditions take time to feel like traditions. This was a year filled with new traditions - so of course, much of the time I felt like I didn't really know what I was doing. It was not yet the familiarity of long-held traditions. I definitely felt connected to Jews here and around the world also lighting candles, making latkes or other fried foods, and to generations of Jews who have done so before us.
So I found myself sad or tearing up at different times. I found myself missing the Christmases of my childhood with my parents and grandparents. I was missing the cooking, baking, and large family gatherings of my past. I felt overwhelmed by all the Christmas and feeling very much like an outsider as a Jew. I was also angry at the Christian privilege that seemed even more prominent this year.
So as 2018 comes to a close, I know that 2019 will bring its own changes and adjustments. I definitely have ideas for traditions I want to begin - starting with Shabbat dinners or brunches and a Hanukkah Party. I know that part of what I was missing and grieving was coming together around a table with friends and family to eat, laugh, share stories, light candles, prayer. I want cell phones out only for photos. I want silly and profound conversations. I want to bring people together who do not yet know each other. I want to create a home filled with the tradition of being a place where family and friends gather for occasions large and small, happy and sad, planned way in advance and the last minute take-out and movie night. One thing I have learned in 2018 is that I cannot wait for others, if this what I want, then I need to be the one to make it happen.
Happy New Year!