I love to learn about different religions and their practises and celebrations so I asked Astrid to write a post about Hanukkah. I have many Jewish friends (and I’m not just saying that) 🙂 I’m probably one of the few Gentiles who celebrates Rosh Hoshanah, Passover, Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays every year because my friends are inclusive and I have even attended a Bris (Brit Milah) or two (that’s the ceremony of circumcision). Unfortunately the Bris was not a highlight. 🙁
Astrid talks about the more pleasant aspects of her religion and I invite you to share her memories.
I’m not, what you call, a real holiday lover. I don’t celebrate Purim. Or Easter. Or wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, or attend synagogue on High Holidays, or get fireworks on the 4th of July. I barely scrape out a pumpkin for Halloween. And then I eat all the candy before the kids can show up.
For father’s day my dad gets a call. For mother’s day my mother gets her birthday present, which is the same week. And I refuse to celebrate Valentines Day in memory of the Valentines Days that I didn’t have a lover and felt left out.
But there’s something irresistible about the December holiday season. Perhaps it’s the glut of holidays, as a Jewish American. I get Thanksgiving, then Hanukkah, THEN a secular American form of Christmas, and New Years.
I’m not religious, and so all of these traditions exist independent of faith. They represent heritage, and respect for the message beneath the celebration. Oh and shiny lights and great music and a sense of “home” that no other holiday season creates.
Hanukkah is interesting that way. Growing up in a community that was nearly 40 percent Jewish, I never thought it was special. It wasn’t strange to say “Happy Hanukkah/Merry Christmas!” to everyone at school as we left for Winter Break. But when I moved to England, I realized that Hanukkah was not mainstream. It wasn’t even normal. I knew one other Jew at my international school. And my school was in a nunnery. It made Hanukkah feel weird and antiquated and sort of secret.
In contrast, a few years later I moved to Jerusalem, Israel to go to university, expecting some wild and extravagant Hanukkah traditions. Instead I discovered Hanukkah is nothing there. There was hardly a sign in any shop, no racks of greeting cards, or dreidel-themed blue and white wrapping paper. Some gelt, but that was it.
And I thought, really? It’s not a big deal even here, in the land of the Maccabbees? But Hanukkah in secular Israel, was just another holiday, not THE holiday its been raised up to in the States. Purim is a much bigger deal there, judging by the drunk Chasidic men in the streets and all the children wielding noise makers and plastic hammers.
I then moved to a Muslim country for several years and didn’t get to celebrate Hanukkah OR Christmas. I spent one entire Christmas day trapped in a pit latrine, huddling for warmth from the snow storm outside until my host-family returned. We ate Top Ramen, which, you may be surprised, was actually the best Christmas dinner I could have hoped for in that household.
And it was at that moment I realized that even though I’m Jewish, I also love Christmas. I love the trappings of it – the music and the decorations and the smells. I love the culturally-forced cheer that, even if it drives you mad, you can’t help but feel. I love not spending it in a pit latrine.
And I loved the one day of it, the build-up to something monumental, which we lack with our eight day tradition. It ALL happens on Christmas, and the day itself is sacred ground when it rolls around.
So when I finally stopped traipsing around the world and returned home to the Pacific Northwest I made sure to enjoy Hanukkah AND Christmas for what they represent in America — celebrations of light, love, safety, family, and heritage.
And a good excuse to fry potatoes and cover them in sour cream.
Now I live with a very bad Catholic who loves Christmas. So after we’re done with Hanukkah, he buys the biggest tree he can find and I cover it with doo-dads and baubles and we string colorful LED strings on every surface in the house. It looks like a clown was eviscerated. There’s red EVERYWHERE.
I don’t go for the santas or the angels. I just like the shiny lights and bells. Maybe that’s because I’m Jewish. Maybe there’s no point to all this.
But it doesn’t matter, because it’s the holidays. I love walking home, when its cold, and seeing my house, lit up like its about to burst in a fiery explosion of rainbow colors, and our tree in the window, inevitably askew, and all our presents wrapped under it. And the dreidel there too. Its become some amalgam of Jewish tradition and Christian tradition that means nothing and somehow also everything.
And when I see the haphazardly-erected trappings of our religiously plural household and country, I can’t help but get warm fuzzies and end up writing holiday romances. Because its hard to forgive a lover during a heat wave, but its easy to see the inner beauty of a person when cold and illuminated by eight candles, or 30,000 watts of Christmas lights.
And the cheese-tolerance levels in my bloodstream rise for the holidays, which makes it the perfect time to read those “awwww” and “so sweet” kind of romances, those books that are probably not entirely realistic, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the world felt like this?
So from an otherwise holiday humbug, I wish you all a very (belated) Happy Hanukkah, and a massively Merry Christmas, and of course, a jolly drunken New Years. Thank YOU for making my holidays brighter by reading, and for those writers out there – keep churning out the sickening sweet holiday romance! Because it’s the season to eat well, and celebrate life and love – through fantastical romance, fanciful lighting exhibits, candles, and traditions.