The weeks leading up to this week and weekend are filled with hustle and bustle and lots of holiday music. The energy of the masses is focused on shopping and decorating and preparing for celebrations. The colors of the season are observable in the greenery and displays in stores, on houses, and businesses which are all decked out, including the halls, with boughs and wreaths. It smells good and is pleasant to the eye and after the leaves of fall have turned to brown, we still have the vitality of the green surroundings, at least for these weeks. Words like festive and cheerful come to mind. People are engaged in the process of holding on to their hopes and dreams of a holiday filled with merriment while at the same time, they are not holding on as tightly to their wallets but the piper can be paid off in one way or another sometime down the road.
I don’t celebrate Christmas but I happily encourage others to have a merry one. I accept their wishes as well. It is less about the words than about the sentiment. We celebrate Hanukah, which as I explained yesterday to a few students who were curious, is considered a minor holiday in the Jewish faith, but rooted in a miracle, nonetheless, which is major, as miracles are. We are a minority in our community and I neither advertise or hide my religious upbringing. In a school setting, I offer an educated explanation to create dialogue about our differences and our similarities. The students not only are respectful, but often find the stories and traditions to be something they would like to experience. I don’t feel like a curiosity, but more like someone who wants others to understand something that they are unfamiliar with, to give it a context and make it less foreign.
The gift exchanging aspect is something that the kids want to understand, since their mindset is that Hanukah, since it is celebrated for eight nights, means eight nights of gifts. I have to separate the fiction from the fact and explain that the original story of Judah and the Maccabees fighting to hold on to their temple upon which the miracle is based, as the story goes, that there was only one night’s worth of oil for the light in the Temple, but that it lasted eight nights. The gift is really just a metaphor but that is difficult to explain as the contemporary traditions, keep up with Christmas. They ask what kind of presents I received as a child, and I explained that our gifts, by today’s standards, were pretty meager. This was based in economics, and frugality. One night it might be a small box of crayons, another a puzzle, and maybe a scarf. My father would play some very old recordings of traditional songs on an ancient (even then) record player. We would light the menorah as a symbol of the lighting and lasting of the oil. We would recite the prayers. Hanukah was a holiday that was celebrated in the home, making it ritual and comfortable. We ate food, fried in oil, again to symbolize the miracle.
Fast forward to today’s world. My family is grateful and aware that observing our rituals and traditions are safe from discord. Others are not lucky at all. The fighting and decimation of cultures and freedom are the nightly news. They are both far away and not far from us, closer than we want to acknowledge. Traditions that are steeped in centuries of beliefs are being vilified and obliterated. We cannot wear blinders to the suffering and harming of others, who wish only to live in peace, and practice their beliefs.
I noticed while out and about today that people are friendlier and more engaged with one another. Almost on their best behavior, a bit kinder, more eye contact, more hopeful. There is something to say, beyond hello and good night. There are more words to be exchanged. More effort at being nice. It is infectious but like most infections, it runs it course, and we are back to normal. We will soon stop acknowledging one another in the same way and go on holding on. We are capable of so much, and this season of cheer and good will exemplifies this. I don’t have the answer as to how we make our commitment to engage in the same way sustainable. I like to think that if we can hope, we can do.
May the weekend, whatever you choose to remember and celebrate, allow you joy and enduring peace and contentment. May hope be the gift you give yourselves and those around you to honor those who have little or little hope.
Peace to all and to all a good night.