By P. Samuels
You cooked and baked. You decorated the sukkah. You served six lovely meals and countless in-between-meal snacks. For some of the meals, you rushed to beat the threatening rain. For others, you enjoyed the beautiful weather and served in a leisurely manner, cherishing the conversation and the hearty zemiros. Now the lovely days of chol ha’moed loom ahead, with the potential to create cherished family memories and closeness among relatives. Each family’s dynamics are unique, but following a few basic suggestions could mean the difference between a chol ha’moed to remember and a dissatisfactory day for all.
Spontaneity and last-minute changes in plans can sometimes work out. However, advance planning is really advisable, especially when dealing with larger groups, bli ayin ha’ra, and diverse ages. The first two “rules” below apply for everyone, no matter what your actual plans are.
What’s for supper? Whether you are taking a picnic lunch or just snacks, everyone comes home from a chol ha’moed trip absolutely “staarving.” Ideally, you cooked ahead of time and have supper prepared and labeled in the freezer. If that’s the case, just take it out to defrost. If you do have to cook, utilize an oven timer or slow-cooker. You could also take advantage of any family member who is not joining your trip. It’s advisable to set a reminder on your cell phone to call home to ask him or her to put the food in the oven or to shut the oven at the designated time.
Straighten up the house before you leave. If everyone pitches in, the beds will be made, toys picked up, and the sink empty of dishes in no time. It’s even worth leaving a little later, because coming home to a neat house is a special pleasure. Under no circumstances should you say to the children, “You just go. I’ll clean up by myself after you leave.” It’s a sure prescription for resenting the “guests” instead of basking in the pleasure their presence evokes.
Consider the ages of the participants in your trip. My older daughters and some of my nieces remember with nostalgia my mother, a’h, taking only them to a museum or park, and enjoying spending time with her almost-adult young ladies. Someone I know sometimes plans a boy-friendly trip, such as to a fire station or train museum, for her grandsons ages six to bar mitzvah. Call ahead if you need to take a stroller, or if any of the participants have mobility issues.
Some newspapers and magazines feature ideas of how to spend chol ha’moed. Study the advertisements to see what will appeal to your family. If tickets have to be purchased in advance, check to see who wants to join, and put “buying tickets” on your to-do list. If necessary, arrange transportation before yom tov.
Celebrating chol ha’moed does not have to mean a trip out of the house. With a little bit of planning, you can enjoy the children while giving them a great time. When else do the kids have time to finish a whole game of Monopoly? Young geniuses would be thrilled to have an adult coach them in the finer points of chess. Have the little ones do small puzzles while the older kids attack (and finish) something big, such as a 1,000-piece masterpiece. Bring out the family photo albums, and if you have family videos, this is a great time to show them. Have the kids practice and perform a play, and be a willing audience. Just make sure to have your camera ready–home celebrations offer as many photo-ops as daylong trips out of the house.
Fun food could be a great chol ha’moed activity. Now is the time to take out the popcorn popper, cotton-candy machine, and malted maker. You can also plan a supper that the children help prepare, such as a salad bar or make-your-own-pizza party. Let the kids help you bake and decorate cookies for yom tov. Just insist that cleanup is part of the fun.
After reading these ideas, you still may decide to opt out. It’s your prerogative. If you choose to stay home to read the book that’s calling your name from your closet shelf, or you want to spend some time with your friends, feel free to do so. After all, v’samachta b’chagecha applies to you, too. Just maintain a positive attitude.
However you decide to spend chol ha’moed, have a wonderful time and enjoy the nachas gezunterheit.