Flashback: the dessert holiday(s)

Judaism divides the calendar into regular days,  (like Purim and Rosh Hashanah) and festivals (like Passover and Sukkot). As American Jews my family adds to that secular holidays – some which we embrace wholeheartedly (Independence Day, Thanksgiving), some which we wrestle with (Halloween, Sweetest Day) and those that we dismiss out of hand (Valentine’s Day. And thank you Rabbi Joe Black for giving us a song for that very dilemma!)

In our house, however, our children have forced us to recognize a super-set of holidays, something that transcends religious and secular boundaries. That, of course, would be “dessert days”.

When our first child, Heather, was little, we were the typical neurotic first-time parents. We closely monitored anything she ate, purchased only orthopedic-ally-certified little booties to ensure proper foot development, and dutifully sterilized everything that might come into contact with her mouth (including the cat).

Even so, we realized by the time she was 4 or 5 that dessert in our house had gotten out of control. It was a standard part of our dinner routine, and was become the primary reason (in Heather’s view) to eat dinner at all.

Debbie and I decided to scale back, but we knew we had to go about it creatively. You can’t just yank the dessert rug out from under a toddler – there’s no telling what might happen. It’s a little known fact that the last words Lizzy Borden’s parents said to her before that fateful night were “You didn’t eat your broccoli, so no cheesecake tonight”.

We knew we had to move carefully to avoid a Toddler Typhoon. So we pinned it on God (hey, don’t knock it. If you are looking for someone who has broad shoulders, you can’t get much broader than that!). We sat her down with appropriately somber expressions and laid it out the situation:

“We were talking with the Rabbi, and we just found out that God said the only dessert day is Shabbat. All the other days are not dessert days. We’re so disappointed! But we don’t think that we want God to be angry with us for not listening. What do you think?”

Heather put on her best “don’t like it but going to try to make the best of it” expression and said “I guess we gotta then.” (pause) “How ’bout just snacks? How ’bout birthdays?”

We promised to check back with the Rabbi.

From that point on, when there was a question about dessert, we invoked the mantra: “Is it Shabbat?” which was enough to close the discussion.

Then we discovered that the problem with sending your kids to school – especially religious school – is that sometimes they pay attention.

One Sunday sometime during first grade, Heather came home flush with the excitement of discovery and revelation:

“wejustlearnedaboutanotherholidayanditcomeseveryweekbutitsnotshabbatandiknowtheteachersaiditwasA DESSERT HOLIDAY TOO!!”

Upon further investigation, this additional weekly dessert holiday was called “Havdalah” and Heather knew all about it – enough to guide us through the particulars, which included a significant discussion on what kinds of desserts were acceptable. Havdalah also had something to do with candles, grapejuice and “stuff that smells”, as Heather so delicately put it, along with a song that had a lot of lai lais in it.

Readers of this blog may remember that I was somewhat conflicted about celebrating Havdalah without knowing precisely what I was doing. With Heather as my enthusiastic cheerleader, I found myself *strongly* encouraged to let go of those concerns and go with the flow.

I also found a reason to stop using my concerns as an excuse not to find out more. What’s more, I am blessed to be able to say that this was not the last time my kids pushed me to grow Jewishly.

12 years and 3 children later we still only eat dessert on Shabbat. And Havdallah. And the Jewish holidays. And Birthdays. And sometimes on secular holidays too. My kids seem pretty happy with the arrangement.

But I’m looking for a good Jewish diet book.