We all know of the famous Christmas tale that begins, “Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Clause.” Well, my story takes somewhat of a different spin. You see, four years ago, I finally had to say to my then 10-year old daughter, “No, Melissa, there really isn’t a Hanukah Fairy.”
It all began when my baby girl (now a teenager) still enjoyed the innocence of kindergarten. As December approached, her classmates chattered endlessly with anticipation, wondering aloud what wonderful presents they would find under their tree Christmas morning, courtesy of their hero, the one and only Santa Claus. From the perspective of a five year old, not getting a present from Santa just seemed so unfair. It didn’t matter that her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends and of course, my husband and I showered her with presents for the eight days of Hanukah. As one of only a few Jewish children in her class, all that she knew was that her gifts did not come from Santa, and that, in her young mind, made her feel terribly left out.
Sooooo….. I told her she should feel lucky, because we had the Hanukah Fairy. Ok, I admit, I am not proud of my deception to my five-year old. However, when her big brown eyes lit up, and her frown faded away, I simply had to perpetuate the myth. What I didn’t count on were all of the questions. “Where does the Hanukah Fairy live?” (at the mall) “How does she know what I want for Hanukah?” (I tell her when I go shopping, and she picks out the presents and gives them to me)
The hardest questions were targeted to my husband, who desperately struggled to elaborate on a lie he didn’t invent! “Daddy, is the Hanukah Fairy real?” she asked during a quiet moment when the two shared a car ride alone. “Uh, well, hmmm,” came his eloquent response, as he wiped the sweat off his forehead and secretly cursed me under his breath. “The Hanukah Fairy is real if you believe it’s real.”
The holiday came and went, with Melissa finally convinced that she was special. As winter melted into spring, I forgot all about my lie. When the holiday season approached the following year, I naively thought my little girl would also forget about the Hanukah Fairy. Alas, t’was not meant to be. As Hanukah inched closer, not only did Melissa wonder aloud about the many presents the Hanukah Fairy would bring, but she told all of her friends about it, who in turn told their parents, who in turn asked me about this strange part of Hanukah that they had never heard of. I had to whisper out of earshot of my daughter and explain how and why I made the whole thing up.
As Melissa got older, my husband and I tried very hard to help her understand that, even though we celebrated a different holiday, we shared with everyone the spirit of faith and goodwill that for me, is the best part of the holiday season. Each year, we “adopted” a family less fortunate, and Melissa always helped pick out gifts for the kids. On Christmas day, Melissa made cards out of construction paper and we delivered them to patients in the local hospital where I worked at the time.
We also tried to help her understand the story of Hanukah. It takes place in ancient times, when the Syrians attacked the Jews, trying to force them to give up their faith. Although horribly outnumbered, the Jews won the battle, but their Temple was destroyed. However, amidst the devastation, they found enough oil to burn in a lamp for one day. Yet, miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, and that is why we celebrate eight days of Hanukah, and light a candle for each day. Hanukah pays homage to everyone who has fought for the right to worship as they please, to celebrate their heritage, to share their own traditions with their children, and to be proud of who they are. In short, Hanukah celebrates freedom!