Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Jew at Christmastime

Chanukah starts tonight. As usual, I'll get out a menorah--or two--and light one candle, plus the shamus, in each to start the first of eight nights of this holiday. Each night I'll add a candle. In these days of electric lights, candles still evoke a mood--in this case, one to remember our ancestors who didn't have electricity. Or, on later nights, when there are several candles going, you can wager on which one will be the last to go out.

I'm a Jew at Christmastime, living in a world of lights, trees, Santa, and even, sometimes, Jesus. Last night, I was out shopping for gifts for my granddaughter, who, not being Jewish, celebrates Christmas--with gusto.

I think my street has more Christmas lights than usual this year. I like them. I remember driving around our neighborhood when I was six, sitting in the back seat of the Rambler with my brother, looking at all the displays. There may have been some snow--it was Buffalo, New York--and the lights were pretty much all the big pepper-shaped colored ones. Today there are icicles and bright blue ones and all kinds of inflatable and even moving holiday displays (reindeer are popular). I've seen Santa on a Harley. I have a string of illuminated plastic Nash Metropolitans and Airstream trailers. It's all good.

What I don't have much of is a sense of Chanukah community. Perhaps only in Israel is there a public celebration of Chanukah--and even there, the substantial Christian community celebrates Christ's traditional birthday--in the very spot where it happened. That has to have a lot of meaning for some people.

As kids, we got our holiday gifts with candles, not under a tree, and the paper wasn't red and green. While we certainly weren't denied any of the joy of getting presents, the festivity of the holiday wasn't that big a deal--except for Christmas carols. I love them and can sing most of them now--well, the first verse anyway. Hark the Herald Angels Sing... Oh Come All Ye Faithful... Silent Night... Deck the Halls... Joy to the World... Even Jingle Bells. And don't forget the popular songs: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, White Christmas, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire....." (Had a chestnut lately? Me neither.)

I remember going over to my friends' houses and seeing their trees--with tinsel and those glimmering glass globes and twinkling electric lights. I remember making school projects with stars and bells and Santas using colored paper and glitter.

I was the kid with the candles--and no tree. Today, I have a tree (a realistic fake one and sometimes a real one) and we have a nice variety of ornaments that we've collected over the last couple of decades--one for each person each year. It adds up.

Other great stuff about this time of year--hot cider and hot chocolate, Christmas cookies, Peppermint Bark, Honeybaked Ham (available all year). And the movies--It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (animated).

I'm a Jew at Christmastime. Happy Chanukah.

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