Some of my best childhood memories involve the New Year’s holiday. We, like absolutely everyone else in the former Soviet Union had a «ёлка» (pronounced “yolka”): a new year’s tree. Since neither Hanukkah nor Christmas were allowed to be observed, people channeled all of their celebration into the one secular holiday of the season. I grew up with big trees decorated with elaborate and amazing ornaments, candies, and presents. Every New Year’s Day, my sister and I would open presents, watch our favorite cartoons (or maybe they were MY favorite cartoons and she just went along?) and ate Russian potato salad, caviar, and herring under a fur coat. There were baked sweets, candies, and lots of family time. These are some of my favorite things today and perhaps that is where my family-oriented nature took hold.
A year ago, Evan and I resolved to give a new year’s tree a try. When we fulfilled that promise this year, there was pure joy on both Sophia’s and Evan’s faces as they decorated the tree for the first time with great abandon. In addition to teaching Sophia and Eliza that the tree is called a “yolka,” we further ensured that they are only marginally confused about their Jewish heritage by already having not one, but two preemptive Hanukkah celebrations: one with my sister and one with Evan’s family.
There will be a smaller one during the week with just the four of us. After all is said and done there will have been more latkes and sufganiyot than in previous years and this will indeed ensure our children grow up with warm memories of Hanukkah.
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