Last year, when a friend of mine became an empty nester (after raising four children), she wondered whether she and her husband would still continue to celebrate Shabbat now that no one was home. I thought it was an interesting question and one I am starting to grapple with myself.
The night before Passover began, my husband and I found ourselves alone as our youngest was at a basketball game and our older kids were not yet home for the holiday. The tradition is to search for chametz (leavened food) so that it can be burned in the morning before the official start of Passover. I kind of thought we could skip it; my husband insisted that we do it. So, in a marital compromise we did an abbreviated version where I put out a few pieces of bread for us to sweep into the bag with the feather.
With my youngest son headed off to college at the end of the summer, I suspect there will be many more instances where we negotiate how to observe holidays when it’s just the two of us. Do we go whole hog on traditions and rituals or do we forgo some of them? Were we doing it for ourselves or for our kids?
Before we had children, we were a little freer in how we celebrated. Once they came along, we both agreed that it was important to both of us to pass down as much as we were able, teaching them, while also trying to make holidays fun and interesting. On the Jewish holiday of Sukkot we put up a sukkah (tent) on our deck and, for many years, hosted a party and ate out there nightly. Part of the fun was in building the sukkah—my husband and sons would put it up together and I was in charge of decorating it. The past few years, with time constraints as well as a lack of enthusiasm on our part, my youngest son took it upon himself to start the project himself, employing a friend to help. I know my husband loves Sukkot but is he going to schlep out all the materials and build it himself? Will we bribe some neighborhood children to help?
I can see that the traditions have taken root in our children and for that I am glad. All three of our sons have expressed a desire to continue observing and celebrating in their own homes. I feel that, in some way, my job is done. I’m not saying I won’t light Friday night candles to usher in the Sabbath or stop keeping kosher—some things are just too ingrained in me—but I feel that we may enjoy a little more flexibility in the future. We never made our children stay home on Friday nights for dinner—but we did try and get them (and their friends) to at least join us for the prayers before dinner. Perhaps we can set the same rules for ourselves.
Some holiday traditions are definitely more about the kids. I don’t think most adults search for Easter eggs or the Afikomen (dessert matzah hidden during the Seder) nor would they leave out cookies for Santa. Recently, one of my friends was home alone for one of the nights of Chanukah and on that night, she did not light the menorah.
I guess we will see how things go and play it by ear. I do know that I look forward to going to my kids’ homes to celebrate with them as they create their own traditions with their families.
In answer to my question, “Do we do it for us or for them?”, I will quote Forrest Gump and conclude, “I think maybe it’s both.”