This article is from Jodi Lazar, an Austin-based family law attorney with Lazar Law and board member for the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas.
Perhaps Chanukah is the ultimate collaborative holiday – so many options for celebrating, none of them wrong. Even the name generates options: Chanukah or Hannukah. It’s okay to spell it either way. You can drop the “h” at the end. You can use one “k” or two.
There are even more options for celebrating Chanukah than there are ways to spell it. So, in a collaborative divorce, couples should have great success in finding a unique and successful way to celebrate Chanukah with their kids post-divorce.
Some keys to Chanukah to keep in mind:
Chanukah is a Minor Holiday
First, know that Chanukah is not a major holiday in Judaism. There are no special religious services commemorating the holiday and no requirements for observance, like fasting on Yom Kippur or not eating bread during Passover. For most Jews, it will be much more important to have the kids for Rosh Hashanah dinner, for High Holy Day services, and for Passover Seder.
Chanukah is celebrated every year, beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. The Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar calendar, unlike our secular solar calendar, so it falls on different days each year on our secular calendar. That’s why you will hear us say that Chanukah is “early” or “late” this year, but actually, it’s always right on time, same time each year. (Here’s a link to finding out when Chanukah is this year and the next few years.)
Chanukah commemorates the defeat of the Syrians by the Jews, after Syria occupied Israel and destroyed the Temple. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem to liberate it, they entered the destroyed Temple and built a new altar, which was dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 3622. In the Temple, the altar was always lit by an eternal flame. The Golden Menorah of the Holy Temple had been stolen by the Syrians, so the Jews made a metal one, but there was only enough pure oil left in the Temple to light the eternal flame for one day. Chanukah celebrates the miracle that the holy oil lasted eight days until new oil arrived. This is why the holiday lasts eight days and why we light the Menorah.
Days Don’t Matter
Under the lunar calendar, days begin at sundown, so candles are lit and the holiday is celebrated in the evening. The days aren’t significant to the holiday. Everyone goes to school and to work during the day.
You’ve Got Eight Nights to Work With; None More Important than the Other
Chanukah is celebrated for eight nights, in the home, by lighting a menorah, adding (or, for some families, subtracting) one candle for each night. We say blessings when we light the candles, and that’s it for the religious part.
The rest is ritual tradition, depending on each family and its customs. During Chanukah, we often eat fried foods (how great is that?) to commemorate the one-day’s worth of oil that burned for 8 days. Usually, it’s latkes, deep fried shredded potato pancakes, but it’s also tradition to make donuts; anything fried will do. Often families will do a big dinner on only one night, with every other night just for lighting candles.
A Word About Presents
Presents are a response to Christmas. They are not traditional to Chanukah. Every family handles presents at Chanukah differently. Some give one present a night, with the lighting of candles. Some give presents only on the first night. Some only give one present. Some only give presents to the kids (so they don’t miss out on the Christmas spirit). Some do not give presents at all. You cannot assume what a family does about presents at Chanukah, and there is no right or wrong answer around presents.
Christmas and Chanukah
For interfaith couples who are divorcing, there is often stress around the intersection of Christmas and Chanukah. I recently had a case with an interfaith couple, who were parents of a young child and who also really liked to split hairs, and so we googled the dates for Chanukah for every year over the next 12 years, and I can tell you that there are only a few years in the next decade when Chanukah and Christmas will overlap. In those cases, it is my opinion that Christmas trumps a night of Chanukah, because there are six other nights of Chanukah, in addition to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, for the Jewish parent to celebrate with the kids.
Here are the recommendations I give to professionals helping parents with successful negotiation around Chanukah parenting time:
• Find out how this family traditionally celebrates Chanukah: Talk to your clients about how they have celebrated Chanukah during their marriage. Do they light candles every night for 8 nights or just the 1st night? Do they give the kids a present each night? Do they have a family party with brisket, latkes and play dreidel? With so many ways to celebrate Chanukah, you cannot find good solutions for parenting time without knowing what is, and maybe more importantly what is NOT, important to this family.
• Find out how each spouse would like to celebrate Chanukah post-divorce: This is especially important for interfaith couples. When an interfaith couple divorces, usually one household becomes 100% Jewish and one becomes 100% not Jewish. The Jewish spouse may want to go back to the traditions he or she grew up with, so you need to explore these interests as well.
• Help your clients develop options that support their interests in celebrating the holiday: There are so many ways to get to “yes,” the possibilities are endless. The goal here is give the parents and the children the opportunity to celebrate Chanukah in their unique way. You don’t have to fight over the first night. You’ve got eight nights. You don’t have to change the overnight possession schedule so long as Chanukah can be celebrated in the other household in a meaningful way. With an eight-night holiday, it is more than likely each Jewish parent will already have possession during Chanukah under the regular weekday/weekend parenting time schedule. A parent who needs more nights to celebrate Chanukah, can have dinner possession without changing the overnight schedule because days are not important to celebration of the holiday. If you spend time finding out how parents celebrate Chanukah with their kids, you can help them develop satisfying solutions.