Latkes and light and learning, oh my!

Who's excited for Chanukah? My kids sure are! And so am I. There are two ways to look at this holiday:

1) Chanukah isn't a major Jewish holiday; it celebrates some religious zealots that Judaism has chosen to valorize; we only do it big because of Christmas

OR

2) Chanukah is a super fun holiday filled with things that are so good for us: light, play, comfort food, family. Let's Jew it!

I'm choosing the latter. Of course everything under point 1 is true. But everything under point 2 is equally true.

I didn't get the whole big deal about Chanukah until I had kids. One night when my daughter was two years old we sang the song "Chanukah oh Chanukah" which includes the line "let's have a party, we'll all dance the horah." And so she asked: when is the horah starting? And just like that a tradition was born. We dance around the kitchen each night. It's silly and awesome.

We also play dreidel each night, we decorate the house, we cook together (my children basically only eat beige food so latkes and applesauce are perfect). We host family and friends many of the eight nights. We make special dedications on candles about things that are important to us. And we laugh a lot. It took me having kids to get why all of this was so important. I have so few regrets in my life, but one of them is that I didn't take the opportunity to make this holiday as special as it can be much, much earlier.

So make this holiday wonderful - celebrate and embrace it for all the fun it can be!

To get you in the mood, check out Bohemian Chanukah, this year's Jewish song adaptation of awesome.

Until next week,

Denise

 

 

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Chrismakkuh and Chanukah

Lots of us are gearing up for the holiday season. Some families do Chanukah and some do something more like Chrismakkuh. What does your family do?

I've been thinking a lot about how families make the holidays their own. Part of what I appreciate about the holidays is the chance to create new traditions. At my husband Charlie's family Christmas dinner, they always make sure I have a lasagne. Why lasagne, you ask? No, it's not traditional for either Christmas or Chanukah. But I'm a vegetarian and even though there is plenty of food I can have, they wanted to make sure I have a main dish I can enjoy while they're all noshing on turkey.

I now associate Christmas with lasagne. Charlie, who isn't Jewish, associates December with Chanukah, something new to him.

We have negotiated all the things people negotiate: lights, tree, presents, how we blend or don't blend the holidays. Our way isn't your way, but everyone has to find what works.

Even in families where Chanukah is the only holiday being celebrated, you might come from different family traditions or ways of celebrating. Everyone has to negotiate how to make the holidays meaningful for them.

It's worthwhile to figure out how to make the holidays fit with your values.... how many gifts and for whom? Can tzedakah be part of the holiday giving? This year we made a list of people who help us, everything from garbage collectors to postal workers to hairdressers, and we're making cookies for them. It's a good time of year to spread some cheer.

For more on this, check out my Chrismakkuh guide: https://www.secularsynagogue.com/holidays/

However you are celebrating, I hope it will be with great joy.

Until next week,

Denise

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Let there be light!

We are now in the Jewish month of Kislev. This month we celebrate Chanukah and join cultures around the world whose festivals are made to increase light at this dark time of year. As I write this (a few days before you’re reading it), it is Diwali, and because I live in a South Asian neighbourhood there have been sparklers, fireworks, special sweets and celebrations in the streets. It has been a powerful antidote to the endless grey skies and the early darkness.

Chanukah is a bit early this year, and so our own festival of light will be all wrapped up before that other winter holiday which gets quite a bit of attention at this time of year. It’s a chance to let the light continue to shine - from Diwali to Chanukah, to winter solstice, to Christmas to Kwanzaa (Dec 26-31). Many festivals of light and joy at the time of year we need them most.

The Jewish contribution, Chanukah, is ours to uphold, but we can imagine ourselves in a chain of people(s) everywhere, increasing light. I love that image.

Chanukah is a bit of a shapeshifting holiday — its traditions have evolved over time and the places where Jews have lived. This year’s iteration for us will be inspiring and challenging — feelings the holiday naturally provokes. I hope you’ll be with us.

Wherever you are at this month, I hope you find lots of light and love to brighten the short, dark days.

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