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Celebrating the holidays without extended family

One mom creates her own Hanukkah traditions for her small family of two.

1TMZ-Anna-holidays Tara-Michelle brainstorms different ways she and her daughter can celebrate Hanukkah. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

All week on Twitter I’ve been making jokes about my preparations for a “traditional” Hanukkah. This has included: Cooking the "traditional" coconut-squash soup, displaying the "traditional" IKEA-purchased candleholders, and buying the "traditional" ginger chews to use as dreidel tokens.

Regardless of the extent of your knowledge of Hanukkah, you’ve probably realized that none of these are actually Jewish rituals. Truth be told, they’re not even quite traditions in our home yet.

Here’s the situation: My daughter Anna turned four this year, and we're currently living in an apartment, just the two of us, for the first time since she was an infant. I don’t have much contact with my mother, my father passed away when I was nine, and my two younger brothers are mostly not around, although they both live just outside the city. I have some contact with my grandmother and aunt, but have no extended family that we’re close to in the city.

Anna and I have friends—and this includes some parent-kid duos—which makes for excellent company. Only a small handful of our friends are Jewish, and the ones who are tend to have their own families to celebrate holidays with. So, I’ve created my own rituals for certain holidays. For example, for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, I often book a fire pit in a nearby park and have a campfire with apples and honey. Since my mid-20s, I’ve hosted a Hanukkah party on or near the last night of the holiday, on alternating years. I’ve cooked while friends (mostly non-Jewish) have helped. We’ve lit candles and Anna's usually given small gifts.

She’s been around for two of these Hanukkah parties, one as an infant, and one at age two—there are photos, but she remembers neither. This year, I wanted to mark all eight nights, so I opted to have various friends over each evening for a low-key dinner and candle-lighting event, rather than hosting one big party. Now, two nights in, I’ve already concluded that the results are exhausting. I love cooking for people, but doing it for eight consecutive days in a row is a bit much. A "traditional" Hanukkah takeout night might be in the cards at some point this weekend. That said, Anna had been Santa-obsessed the past couple of years—for which I blame daycare and Loblaws. This year, however, she's excitedly announced to people that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but another holiday instead. She even did a presentation for her kindergarten class using Hanukkah-themed board books we bought.

Anna-Hanukkah Anna helps with lighting the menorah. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

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The other day she asked me if other families also have dinner guests come over throughout Hanukkah. I told her that they might sometimes, but they might also have bigger families that celebrate together.

Last night at dinner, Anna was explaining to her friend who was over that we use the middle candle in the menorah to light the others, and that we add a candle each night. Later, she gave her other parent a recap of our evening by phone, and announced proudly that she’d spoken in another language—Hebrew. She repeated the prayer over the candles after me. We also played dreidel and she was gifted a My Little Pony. So far so good, I think. Now it's time to put those "traditional" Jewish gluten-free brownies in the oven for tonight. I’ll let you know how the rest of the week goes. Happy Hanukkah to those that celebrate, however you do!

Does your family create its own traditions? 

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

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This article was originally published on Dec 18, 2014

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