Beyond FESTIVE: It’s That Time of Year…
“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.