Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Beyond FESTIVE: It’s That Time of Year…

NPR featured a nifty essay by Amy Klein, whose work is included in the recently published anthology How to Spell Chanukah and Other Holiday Dilemmas from Algonquin Books (edited by Emily Franklin). While this book sounds like a lot of fun, I was most impressed by the way Amy Klein reconciled personal experiences with Decembers past in order to fully appreciate Hanukkah in her essay, “Hanukkah Is in the Holiday Season, Too.” Amy offers a unique Jewish-American perspective after having grown up in an Orthodox part of Brooklyn and then spending seven years in Israel:

“By early December (in Israel) every kiosk and supermarket presented cardboard boxes of fresh, sumptuous donuts for Chanukah. Sufganiyot, with jelly or crème or caramel or chocolate gushing out like a geyser. Fried, like potato latkes, to celebrate the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days.

“In the center of town a giant electric menorah was lit every night. Throngs of teenagers wandered through the midrachov—the pedestrian cobblestone square — until way past their bedtime. But there was no bedtime because it was Chanukah vacation.”

Amy compares this, of course, to the hyper-commercialized holiday season in the U.S., when “holiday” really means “Christmas.” Bombarded by Christmas songs on the radio, by “office holiday parties and media holiday parties and friends’ holiday parties, all with giant evergreens and mistletoe,” she acknowledges “the table with a lonely little menorah and plastic driedls, but (they’re) off to the side, almost invisible, dwarfed by the glittering ornaments and lights” of the Christmas tree. It’s the sensation, more than anything, Amy writes, that the country is throwing a giant party “to which everyone but me is invited.”

After returning to the U.S. from Israel, Amy recalls what she experienced halfway around the world and opts to give Hanukkah the center stage it deserves in her Decembers by throwing huge Hanukkah parties, “where people bring grab-bag prizes and eat latkes and donuts. I light the menorah each night with friends and sing the jaunty tunes of childhood. And I realize it’s different this time around in America. I revel in my Chanukah joys because I know that halfway around the world, come December, people are celebrating Chanukah like there’s no other holiday.” Hopefully this approach makes it at least a little easier for Amy and other Jewish-Americans to put up with the Christmas music on the radio, in the stores, and on the television each December. If it’s any consolation, plenty of us gentiles get pretty tired of it, too.

For more Hanukkah fun, check out NPR’s growing collection of fiction from Jewish writers in Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season. Which way is the proper way to spell Hanukkah? I’ve heard and read all sorts of discussions on this, and apparently one of the issues involves the fact that some letters in the Hebrew alphabet don’t exist in the English alphabet. Gentile that I am, with no experience in pronouncing the appropriate guttural “ch” sound that makes Chanukah sound so cool, I’ve always stuck with the easy way out when I wish friends and family who celebrate this holiday Happy Hanukkah!!

P.S. Amy Klein is also Religion Editor at the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Her latest piece, “In Search of...Chanukah Gelt” is another great read. K.

9 Comments:

Blogger Jen P said...

It does get old, especially now that the stores promote it earlier and earlier. Being in retail I'm just as guilty but it is to compete with the others.

If you've ever watched Friends, I never understood why Monica always had a Christmas Tree. Was that explained in an episode or a behind the scene clip?

1:44 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Good question, Jen! I honestly have no idea on that one, lol!

1:54 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Burgess said...

Good post. I have found myself more in the spirit this year than usual. Quite possibly the result of having a 3 and 4 year old in the house. Also, I tend to tune out much of the noise surrounding the holiday and don't spend ridiculous amounts of time, money, and sanity in the stores. The "Holiday Season" is wonderful if you're able to stick to the basics.

Why aren't there more popular Hanukkah songs? I do love Adam Sandler's song and laugh every time I hear it, but you would think there'd be more.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

The one problem I have with this time of year, and it happens every year, is the battle of faiths for dominance. I must admit I am a Christmas nut, not because of any faith interests.. but because I guess , like the masses I'm caught up in the tradition.

However, I understand why each different faith wants to be heard, I guess I just don't have the answer.

Maybe we should make a universal holiday, and play music from all the faiths. One thing I am sure of, no matter what happens there is always going to be someone who is not happy.

Me personally.. if they never play jingle bells again.. I'd not miss it! :)

8:32 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Funny, Matt! A universal holiday is a fantastic idea, though I'm afraid it'd be picketed in a heartbeat. Maybe all the different groups complaining would actually get a chance to know each other, though!

Rebecca, Adam Sandler's hysterical (and a Syracuse alum, btw!) but his Hanukkah song is definitely one of his top accomplishments, lol! I agree having little ones around inspires us go out of our way to make things fun and that has a nice way of rubbing off on all the grownups involved. I forgot your little ones are so close in age! Keep the faith that it DOES get easier as they get older. Three and four, too cute! My sister-in-law will be in town with her two-year-old twin little girls in a couple weeks; talk about a fun combination. :)

9:13 AM  
Blogger Ello said...

I totally love Adam Sandler's Hanukah song! And my kids love to sing the dreydl song along with Christmas songs every year.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Therese said...

Karen, I always gravitate to these stories because I grew up in a dual-faith home--mom Jewish, dad Episcopalian. Count me, now, as agnostic. :)

I love the spirit behind both holidays with the religious dogma extracted, and wouldn't want to do without either.

Too much of anything is undesireable, yes?

Thanks for sharing this.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Ello, With your highly entertaining kids, I'm sure the holidays are a riot every year! I can just picture them rocking around the Christmas tree singing the dreidl (sp??) song. :)

8:12 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Therese, I'm always interested to hear about cultural/religious family backgrounds as it often impacts a child's upbringing so much. I have family and friends who are raising children in a dual-faith family. It's great when parents introduce their kiddos to multiple faiths and foster respect for differences along the way. Not always an easy task, I'm sure. K.

8:16 AM  

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