Friday, December 11, 2009

comfort and joy

counting
My grandmother used to tell me the story of how, one December, she persuaded her younger sisters to hide a pine tree in their father’s barn and decorate it with ribbons and necklaces. She also taught me the traditional Jewish blessings and when I hear the prayers, I hear her voice, the Hebrew given the distinctive pronunciation of Eastern Europe , where her parents were born. Baruch ataw adonai, she would say, the “aw” sound drawn out and low.

Hannukah is about many things, but, both originally and in its current incarnation, at least as practiced by basically secular Jews like me, one of things it’s most about is assimilation. It’s easy enough to light a menorah and the candles look pretty as they shine from the window sill. The more difficult question, especially in households with young children or non-Jewish members, is what to do about the other December holiday. I come down on the side of no Christmas in my house, but there’s a wide range of opinions and practices and, in my mother’s living room, there’s an Advent calendar on the mantel and Easter eggs hanging from a tinsel-draped tree.

In general, I’m not a big fan of ecumenism, at least to the extent that it’s construed as blurring, rather than celebrating, differences. But I will say this: here and now, in this season of expectation, as we make our way through the Northern Hemisphere’s dark days and cold nights, there are times when every holiday, no matter what its name, looks an awful lot like a festival of lights.

13 comments:

Amelie said...

To me it is. Totally. And makes the dark nights much more bearable.

Magpie said...

How else to get through the long winter nights but with light?

areyoukiddingme said...

My girl loves the houses decorated with lights - and my favorite is looking at a house that we normally can never see due to distance and trees. But with all their decorations, they now provide light in my living room during those cold, dark nights!

Bea said...

This post says exactly what I think, both about ecumenism and December holidays. I was raised to think it made Christmas less meaningful that it is really the pagan winter solstice holiday given a faint Christian tinge, but this year I've been deeply aware of how essential, brave, and meaningful it is to put up lights against the darkness.

Anonymous said...

We atheists have decorated trees. It breakes up the monotony.


-Shamela

three minute palaver said...

xmas in the US would be so different to other places. From where I am, the US comes across as so evangelical and interested in christianity (literally and potitically). December certainly doesn't feel so personally complicated here in Melbourne. My DH isn't anglo and we aren't believers but we do love having a dripping decorated tree, kids visit santa and we give presents and eat traditionally. The most fun place I have ever spent dec 25th was Tokyo. Much like my house, they loves trees and trimmings and ornaments but don't give a fig about the deeper meaning. In my observation, essentially, christmas night in Tokyo is a big date night and one sees couples of all ages (including the elderly) dressed to the nines and promenading arm in arm down romantic boulevards covered with gorgeous street lights and decorations. It is one of the more romantic and lovely sights I have witnessed. very sweet, (and not a manger in sight).

Bon said...

makes me feel better that all we've managed to dig up so far this December in the way of decorations is lights. lights on the house, on the wall, on a tree. plus one other stray ornament O made at daycare. me, i'd be perfectly happy to leave it this way, warm light against the cold dark of this crazy time.

Melissa said...

I'd leave our tree and lights up year-round if I could. They make me happy. <3

painted maypole said...

haha. i did a really, really, really terrible children's show about all the december holidays, and it was called "Festival of Lights"

for me, however, I should have called it "festival of embarrasment" so bad. so bad. Hmm... that might be a theatre thursday post. hmm....

Jen said...

Amen, Magpie.

I am sick of the emphasis on Christmas in the USA. The seasons aren't spring, summer, Christmas, winter. It would be nice to be able to go into stores in late October and November without seeing any Christmas decorations.

I also want to whack the people who get offended by being wished 'Happy Holidays.' Hard. With a pointy (clue) stick. Stop being so damned self-centered.

Blessings to you and yours, as we enter into Hanukkah.

Azaera said...

Though we're not Jewish, we're not Christian either. In our (pagan) household we celebrate Yule or Winter Solstice and the question we've been faced with now that we have Skyler is not what we will celebrate in our own home but how to handle the Holidays with our non-pagan relatives (my in-laws). I am still unsure about what to tell Skyler about Christmas and Santa since we won't be celebrating it here but his grandparents definitely will want to involve him in their traditions.

So far we're leaning towards telling him that other people celebrate different things and that we celebrate Yule/Winter Solstice while Grandma and Grampa celebrate Christmas.. The Santa thing still stumps me though. What if he is upset that Santa doesnt visit us? I'm glad we have a few more years to figure it out honestly.

Caro said...

I'm atheist but grew up with the Christmas tradition. To be honest it's really just a family holiday with gifts for me now.

As for your other recent questions I'm a night owl and my Grandmother's names were Evelyn (always know as Bunty from baby bunting - she was the youngest of 7) and Janet (known as Jenny). I can't believe Trish is already half way - time really flies.

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