People who don’t celebrate Hanukkah sometimes don’t appreciate that this holiday is but a drop in the bucket of Jewish festivals. We’re not commemorating the birth of a saviour or anything momentous like that. It’s more of a David-and-Goliath story, where the Maccabees play the underdog who prevails.
Hanukkah traditions also differ greatly from those of Christmas. There is no such thing as a Hanukkah bush and no gifts arrive via the chimney. We don’t hang Hanukkah wreaths (although an image search reveals a frightening number of them) and Hanukkah stockings don’t hang from the mantle. The ugly Hanukkah sweater is harder to find. We’re even blue and white to your red and green.
I’ll admit we Jews bake our share of menorah-shaped sugar cookies this time of year, but few if any gingerbread. I was so flabbergasted a few weeks back when I spied a Hanukkah gingerbread house that I took a picture and sent it to all my Jewish friends. Building a gingerbread house is a Christmas tradition, and not one I’ve envied since childhood.
Our world is consumed by Christmas each year, whether we celebrate or not. To be fair, J. and I do participate in our unreligious way since J. is not Jewish. In December, a few singing Snoopys dressed in Christmas garb magically appear around the house, as well as our beloved Charlie Brown Christmas tree. J. hangs Christmas lights on our house barring a December cold spell. Then she adorns our wholly unChristmassy Christmas tree with a variety of dog ornaments. And of course there’s the annual television viewing of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Because the Jewish calendar differs from the usual, the dates of Jewish holidays vary from year to year. This year, Hanukkah happens to start on Christmas Eve and end on New Year’s Day. A true confluence of celebrations! So the question arises: how do we celebrate both holidays at the same time? J. graciously decided that Hanukkah would take precedence this year.
On Christmas Eve, after J. lights up our doggy Christmas tree, we will light the first candle on the menorah. I will sing the blessings while J. hums along. (She’s not yet fluent in Hebrew.) Then we will join dear friends for a lovely Christmas Eve dinner. We will be bringing home-baked challah and a Middle Eastern salad because, well, I’m Jewish.
On Christmas Day, Hanukkah will take centre stage. We’ve planned a small Jewish feast for two in keeping with our Hanukkah celebration. We’re subbing Mediterranean-spiced turkey-zucchini meatballs for roast turkey, latkes for mashed potatoes, and apple sauce for that disgusting canned gelatinous cranberry jelly.
And the presents? Rather than opening all our little gifts in no time on Christmas morning, we will each open one small gift every evening for eight days as we light the menorah, as per the Hanukkah tradition. This way we will extend our celebration. Hanukkah, the holiday that never ends.
I wish you all a happy holiday season. Thanks for following along (tolerating my drivel?) this past year.
P.S. If I’m quieter than usual next week, I may be busy crafting my annual post on New Year’s resolutions. Stay tuned.