It always amazes me how quickly Yom Tov just shows up. We mothers are always so, so busy. Whether you have a job outside the home or not, there is just so much always happening, that it can be hard to focus on Yom Tov itself, instead of the cooking, cleaning and back to school busy-ness that precedes it. Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links.
Sometimes, I find myself so overwhelmed by trying to get everything ready in time, whether it’s a small two-day holiday, or a full-blown Pesach, that I forget why I’m really doing this. It can be easy to go through all our responsibilities by rote; just getting it done, all of it, and then fall off our feet by the time Yom Tov gets here. And then, Yom Tov is suddenly over, in the blink of an eye.
I started wondering what Yom Tov means to me. Don’t get me wrong- I love Yom Tov. I absolutely love Pesach, (yes, even with the cleaning that it entails), and Sukkos brings my birthday with it, so that’s always an exciting, nostalgic season for me. But when we have young children, and so many responsibilities to add to our already overflowing daily lists, we can easily let the meaning fall to the wayside.
I had trouble figuring out what I wanted to write in this post. I knew I wanted to bring you some ways to enjoy and bring meaning to Yom Tov, I just wasn’t sure where to start. So, I turned to my friends, peers and my mother (of course!) for some advice and experience, and one friend aptly pointed out that enjoying Yom Tov and bringing meaning to it are not necessarily one and the same. You’ll find some ideas here that will help you enjoy the actual Yom Tov, but also a way to bring the spirituality back in- and you’ll find it where you least expect it.
What Yom Tov means to me
I think that one of things that frustrates mothers over Yom Tov is not just the fact that we are so busy. It goes deeper than that. For years, we used to stand in shul alongside our own mothers, davening and being a full participant in what the day had to offer. For years, we would learn for days and weeks before Yom Tov arrived about all the intricacies there are to the beautiful, holy days, and we knew everything there was to know. And just like that, it all came to an end. We still celebrate Yom Tov, of course. But there is no more standing for hours on end in shul. No more focused learning about the meaning behind everything we do. Instead, we are busy with our children, with the food preparations, and with making sure that everyone else is taken care of- oftentimes, neglecting our own needs.
What we need to realize, though, is that this is exactly where we belong right now. Writing this is as much of a reminder to myself as it is to you, my readers. Some of you have full awareness,, but so many of us tend to forget where we are in life, with young children and busy households, and how important this part is. Let’s not forget that we are raising the next generation. And by raising our children, we get to see a whole new side of Yom Tov. Every Yom Tov. We are lucky enough to see the beauty, the excitement and the wonder of our extraordinary customs and culture, all through our children’s eyes. We don’t have to search for the meaning anymore- because it is right in front of us, with the next generation.
I will never forget what a student once said to me. My first year out of seminary, I taught preschool. One of my very first lessons was all about Rosh Hashanah. I was a little out of my element, and I wasn’t sure how much my impressionable young charges would understand about the heaviness of the day.
I taught them as best as I could, and then one little girl, Rivky, all of five years old, asked me a question. It was such a simple question, yet so full of thought that it blew me over. She asked me, ‘Morah, if we did any aveiros (sins), does Hashem forgive us when we daven to him?” With that question, I realized two things. One, that even children can understand concepts like a Judgement Day, and two, that even adults can sometimes have difficulty understanding the very same concepts. Seeing what Rosh Hashanah is about through a child’s eyes- trust me, there is nothing like it.
Enjoying Yom Tov
One of the things I heard most often mentioned is cooking everything before Yom Tov starts. Friends with young children were telling me this, as well as grandmothers who wanted to utilize the time on Yom Tov to enjoy their grandchildren and fruits of their labor. I actually am a big advocate for cooking everything before Yom Tov starts, partly because it’s how I grew up. I love that come Yom Tov morning, I just have to heat up the food, set the table and prepare a fresh salad or two. Then, I am free to spend my time actually enjoying Yom Tov, instead of being a slave to the kitchen while my kids are playing outside with the neighbors.
Remember, though, that cooking is not all there is to Yom Tov. Yes, food is an incredibly important part of the holiday, but it’s not everything. If it overwhelms you, buy some stuff ready made. Don’t go overboard if it means you will lose too much sleep and be cranky and miserable over Yom Tov. At the end of the day, after all the work that goes into preparing for Yom Tov, if the children are fed, clean and clothed, the house is prepared, and the family is together, that will give you the ultimate satisfaction.
At the same time, cooking itself adds a lot of meaning to Yom Tov. This may sound corny, but it actually works: when you cook each dish, remember to say “L’Kavod Yom Tov”. As frenzied as your cooking may be, you will smile and look forward to Yom Tov, and see past all the chaos of the preparations.
While I would love to cook in advance and freeze, I don’t have a second freezer, so it’s not the best option for me. I also work full time so I can’t do full days of cooking. You will definitely find me over a hot oven at 2 AM the night (morning) before Yom Tov. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
On Fridays, I’ll have my Erev Shabbos music playlist blasting. On Erev Yom Tov, you might hear a shiur from a hotline or Torah Anytime playing in the background. This is a wonderful way to get some spiritual inspiration in and jog your high school memory a little. If you’re more of a visual person, you can try reading a book geared towards Yom Tov while you wait for the food to finish cooking and cool down before you head to bed.
One of my most favorite Yom Tov hacks is using plastic. I know, I know. But it actually brings me way more Simchas HaChag to have an easy clean-up, and getting out of the kitchen sooner. I buy beautiful, coordinated, good quality plastic-ware and I still love the way my Yom Tov table looks.
It’s imperative that you make time for yourself over Yom Tov. Things can get so crazy, between the kids, running to hear shofar, serving the meals, and doing it all over again the next day. Your sanity, health and peace of mind are just as important as everyone else’s Simchas Yom Tov is. Don’t let your needs get pushed to the side. It’s perfectly okay to be selfish and say “Okay, kids, entertain yourselves for (insert appropriate amount of time here). Mommy’s going to go read/rest/sit quietly.”
For starters, buy yourself something L’Kavod Yom Tov. This can be anything, and it can definitely work with any budget. It can be flowers, a new cookbook, or even a chocolate bar (that should definitely be stashed away until needed!) I am not a manicure person, but I try to treat myself to a mani-pedi twice a year- Sukkos and Pesach. It gets me away from everybody and everything and allows for some much needed self-care.
Once you’ve taken care of yourself, consider buying something new for the kids (check out some of Menucha’s great ideas) and save it for Yom Tov afternoon. It’s something for them to look forward to, as well as yourself. While they are occupied with the excitement of something new, take the time to relax with a new book or your favorite magazine. If your kids are old enough to watch themselves for an hour, squeeze in a nap. You’ll feel so relaxed and refreshed, and ready to face whatever comes next.
Consider taking turns with a trusted neighbor to watch both yours and her kids. You can do this in the morning or the afternoon. Do it in the morning so that you can each prepare for the meal without being trampled by hungry kids, or so that you can run to shul for twenty minutes. Do it in the afternoon so that you can each relax without worrying about the kids. Even thirty minutes will make a difference to your whole Yom Tov.
If you can afford it, hire cleaning help over Yom Tov. One day, every day- it doesn’t matter. Even two hours will help you, relax you and let you get on with enjoying Yom Tov properly.
Don’t rush the meal if it means you won’t have time to properly sit and eat. You deserve to sit down, eat the food you worked hard to make, and shmooze with your children, your spouse and your guests. Do this even if it means there will be more lag time between each course. There is no need to feel the pressure to get all the food on the table. No one will starve, I assure you.
Enjoying Yom Tov is important. Taking care of yourself is just as important. Don’t forget that you, as a mother, deserve the very best, and that includes being as involved and as much of a participant as anyone else at your Yom Tov table. So, take a deep breath and face Yom Tov head on, because you got this!