boy with menorah
Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, a combination of the two or neither, kids seem to want what they don’t have.
Naples International Film Festival Program Director Ellen Goldberg remembers being the only Jewish child in her elementary school growing up in Virginia. “I was dying to have Christmas,” she reflects. “Every year I begged for lights, a tree, etc. My parents never allowed it. In fourth grade, we had a real, live Christmas tree in our classroom and before winter break, the teacher was going to throw it away. I asked if I could take it home and I dragged it the whole mile to my house. My mom just laughed and we put it in a bucket and decorated it with pot holders and strung popcorn for garland. And on Christmas morning, there even were presents under it! That was the only time we ever did anything for Christmas and I don’t remember ever asking again.”
At the recent Naples International Film Festival in November, the movie “All I Want is Christmas” had its Florida premiere at the Silverspot Cinema. The movie features an 11-year-old Jewish boy named Ira J. Finkelstein who has craved celebrating Christmas for as long as he can remember. Though his Hollywood movie producer father makes Christmas movies and his mother’s event planning business produces festive Christmas parties, Ira is relegated to being a wistful onlooker when it comes to parades, stockings and Christmas trees. On a solo trip to South Florida during Christmas vacation to see grandparents, he hatches a plan to switch places with another 11year-old solo traveler who is headed to Christmastown, Washington, to visit relatives while his single mother works during Christmas. Both boys get more than they bargained for when they celebrate the other child’s holiday and learn that it’s not about the type of celebration that creates memories, it’s who you celebrate with that is most important of all.
As program director of the film festival, Goldberg screened All I Want is Christmas with her children and they all loved it. The feedback she received from Jewish and non-Jewish families alike was very positive. Like most Jewish parents, she now feels she must make Hanukkah celebrations festive and fun so that her children are too busy enjoying their own holiday to worry about the one they are missing. “We always drive around to look at Christmas lights and they may get their picture taken with Santa at a party,” she says, admitting that her kids do say that their cousins who celebrate both holidays are lucky because they think they get more presents.
This year Hanukkah begins at sunset December 9 and runs through sunset December 16, well before the frenzy of Christmas celebrating peaks. In fact, most children will be in school throughout the Hanukkah run, sitting anxiously through each day of instruction in anticipation of that night’s lighting of the menorah. It’s no wonder that Jewish children yearn to emerge from school on the last day before the Christmas vacation, ready for the exciting immersion into the holiday season.
Though not considered a major holiday according to Jewish law, Hanukkah has become much more popular in modern times due to its proximity to Christmas. Many families give their children one gift each night after lighting the menorah in the hopes that they won’t feel left out of the spirit of the season.
Naples mom of three Melanie Schwartz encourages her children to enjoy the beauty of the season while celebrating Hanukkah without directly celebrating Christmas. She confesses that one of her children “complains vigorously” about feeling “left out” and “different.”
The most poignant scene of the film to Alicia Kelley, who took her two sons to the film festival screening, was after Ira experienced the initial thrill of snow and the Christmas lights he would secretly pull out a small menorah and put it in his window, letting his most familiar tradition bring him comfort while separated from his family.
What most kids who saw All I Want is Christmas seemed to take away is that it is really COOL to participate in all the celebrations. And the Jewish kids in the audience found redemption in the final scene in the movie when the kids perform “Christmas is for Everyone.”
“I think that All I Want is Christmas is about family and making time to spend with family no matter what tradition you celebrate,” Goldberg summarizes.
STACY NICOLAU is an advertising account representative for Neapolitan Family Magazine, editorial contributor, retired registered nurse and mom of three.