Tonight is the second night of Chanukah.

My kids are eagerly awaiting sundown so we can sit around the table to light the candles and, of course, open presents.

When I was a kid, I didn’t like sharing the fact that we were Jewish.  In the small town where I grew up, we were one of three Jewish families.  Being Jewish made me feel different.  It made me stand out.  My friends would ask me what I got for Christmas and I’d say nothing.  We didn’t have a tree like everyone else in town, we didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve, and we didn’t wait for Santa by the chimney.  Each year I would beg for a tree or for a present from Santa, and once in a while my parents would give in.  But they would also remind me to be proud of my ancestry and the traditions we have as a family, so every year they would go into our elementary school armed with dreidels and books to teach the kids about our holiday, and why it’s special.

It reminds me a lot of our life with our son.

Yes, having a child with autism spectrum disorder makes us different.  Our family isn’t the same as the one next door or down the block.  We have different challenges than other families do, and we have to parent accordingly.  Yes, it may make us stand out in town.  But we can’t be ashamed of it.  It’s our family and it’s what makes our family, and our son, special.  And just like my parents did with the children in my elementary school, it’s my job as his parent to educate those around us about his differences.  Like Temple Grandin’s mother said “Different, not less”.

As we sit around the table tonight and light those candles, I’ll tell my boys about the story of Chanukah and I’ll remind them that being part of this ancient tradition makes us a family that celebrates what makes us different and special.  It’s a lesson that I hope they will also share with their friends and our whole community.

Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah
Come light the Menorah
Let’s have a party
We’ll all dance the Horah
” – Chanukah Oh Chanukah (traditional holiday song)

(this is an updated version of a post I wrote yesterday for 5 Minutes for Special Needs)