Posts Tagged ‘Candles’

Festivals of Lights

December 18, 2009

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 ***

Blessing the Chanukah Candles (w/o God)

December 15, 2009

My family is “blended.” My husband was raised Catholic but is non-practicing, and my step-kids are growing up without any formal religious structure or education. This can make sharing the Jewish holidays a challenge. The first year we lit the Chanukiah together, I struggled with how to address the blessings.

The fact that my own relationship to the concepts of God and prayer are tenuous, was a factor. Their mother’s concern that I might confuse them or try to convert them also played a role. While part of me longed to recite and share the traditional blessings, I was hesitant.

As a result, we came up with our own blessing. It is something both my husband and I feel comfortable saying and something the kids can remember. It is a blessing that we can share with our friends and family who are not Jewish so that they can participate in the ceremony of lighting Chanukah candles, without feeling obligated to say a prayer that they don’t understand or feel forced to adopt. Feel free to borrow it for your own interfaith holiday gatherings.

“Thank you for being here with me tonight,
to celebrate the miracle of the Chanukah lights.”