I am not torn about whether to put up a tree or a menorah; I'm not really in the mood for either.
I consider myself to be culturally Jewish (more than anything else at least) but still, Hanukkah seems to be all about consumerism and with everything going on in the world is it really necessary to be partaking in this sort of holiday cheer?
I hear you. Yesterday, “Cyber Monday,” I saw so many glittering images online, presents begging to be purchased, promising joy…for an unbeatable price! This sea of products can be an escape from the winter doldrums, to be sure, not to mention larger global unrest. Sometimes, I will scour the internet and book a hotel room with an ocean-view on the other side of the country - knowing full well that I will cancel it within 24 hours, just to imagine for one afternoon that I am with my family in that warm space resting in crisp sheets amidst all those towels that don’t need laundering.
What am I looking for in those moments? An inner solace, something that I will not find on kayak.com, though I do like to imagine. The holidays are a high-anxiety-making time, and the purchase and exchange of goods can certainly add to that.
Reading books to my toddler about Hanukkah is one way that I reground myself. How many years had it been since I thought about Antiochus oppressing the Jewish people from expressing their freedom of religion? Or that Hanukkah translates as rededication? It had been many many years, December. When I read the words to my daughter I find a way in, outside of what feels like a parade of materialism.
Is there anything in your life that you would like to rededicate yourself towards? An interest, a passion, a further exploration of what you refer to as your cultural Judaism? You display a sensitivity to the larger world and the imbalance that the consumerism triggers. Today is #GivingTuesday; maybe there is a way to redirect and rededicate yourself by giving to a charity or cause that matters to you. Or to any practice that feels restorative and centering.
Because the world is fractured and the days are gaining in darkness and chill, I find myself craving the possibility of miracles. Though stressful, the holidays offer consolation, spiritual solace, a type of magic and grace that I find myself in need of now more than ever.
My daughter knows that we do not celebrate Christmas, though she has started asking me about the possibility of a “winter party” different from Hanukkah, she was quick to clarify, where presents will also be exchanged. I think she has the good sense not to inquire about a tree. These images pervade our culture, and what child does not enjoy gifts?
She will get Hanukkah presents, though she will not get the additional winter party. She will hear me read about Antiochus and rededication over and over. She will grate potatoes with me and we will put them into hot oil until they are crisp and brown. We will bring them to our friends and family. We will give tzedekah.
I will do my best to teach her what the holiday is about, how blessed we are to be able to express our faith freely, and to dedicate our lives to what matters.
December, that feels like all we can do. The winter is just upon us. Our tradition asks us to bring in extra light for eight days and nights. However you decide to spend the holidays, take in that warmth.