Festivals of Lights

Growing up in Great Neck, NY, the “quintessisal Jewish suburb” (Goldstein, 2006), December was a time for Chanukah candles, not Christmas trees.  Sure, we went to Rockefeller Center to visit the green giant holding court there.  But since most of my friends were Jewish too, so I didn’t develop the tree envy I’ve heard about from Jews who grew up in predominantly Christian communities, decorating Chanukah bushes.

Today, I live in Columbus, OH where nearly all of my family, friends, and neighbors celebrate some derivation of Christmas or Winter Solstice rather than Chanukah.  As a result, I’ve been exposed to new ways of marking this time of year – when the skeletons of trees are exposed, when cold weather keeps me indoors most of the day, and when dark evenings send me to bed early with thick, hard-covered novels.

At times I have felt uneasy participating in non-Jewish seasonal traditions, particularly those associated with Christmas.  Afterall, the Macabees fought the Syrians for the right to be different, not to blend in, right?  But, I now feel comfortable sharing the joy my friends and family feel at this time of year.  In turn, I’ve shared my Chanukah traditions and together, we’ve found light in the darkness.

Some friends helping us light our Chanukiah.

*I look forward to Mike and Sally’s late night campfire around which we howl at the moon each December 21st.

*I enjoy days off spent in the kitchen with my family – and the warm oven – baking cookies.

*I love watching my step-children show their friends how to twist the light bulbs to illuminate our electric Chanukiah.

There is one truly awesome tradition in my neighborhood, which I don’t completely understand, but I appreciate and take full advantage of.   On Christmas Eve each year, every house on the block one away from our sets out a row of milk jugs with lit candles inside along the curb.  These homemade luminaria mark nearly a half mile stretch.

I still remember the first time I happened upon them.  Elsa (our dog) and I walked down our dark street, around the corner, and there they were.  I find hope in these lights; hope that neighbors can come together to make something beautiful happen.  I think that hope has something to do with Chanukah, with our belief that miracles can happen in our time, as they did in times of old.  This season as I admire them I might say to myself, as they say in Israel, Ness Gadol Hayah Po.  A great miracle happened here.

*** Happy Chanukah ***  Happy Solstice *** Merry Christmas ***

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