Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The first Hannukah present I remember was wrapped in swaddling and was presented just to me as my baby brother ( "the doctor" ). I was six and just the right age to let the Hannukah lights shine brightly. For me, having a baby of my very own to care for and love was the brightest candle ever lit. I also remember a pair of socks, a box of crayons and a shiny silver dollar my grandpa magically pulled from my ear. The baby dolls my grandma gave my sister and me were nice but not like my real baby; he needed me.

Over the years I have watched Hannukah evolve. When I had children of my own, crayons weren't enough. There had to be eight real presents to compete with all the Christmases on the block. Some Jews even put up Hannukah bushes in lieu of trees and decorated cookies to eat instead of latkes and sufganoit. I didn't want my children to feel different. I didn't want to deprive them of the spirit of the holidays that might risk the loss of self esteem they could feel if they weren't lavished with the same kind of Christmas love ( presents and sweets ) that their friends became obsessed with from Thanksgiving until December 26. In my parenting days different was really, really bad.

Hannukah at my house now with grandchildren in the house is a mixed bag. Some come and others are just too busy. Afterall, it's not Christmas where everything stops and all the stores are closed. I have a mixed bag of ecumenical families that I am related to in blended and biological ways. Catholic, Jewish, half and halves and even an agnostic or four who relish in a tree as a sign of the season, not a celebration of the birth of the Jew who turned history on its ear!

I have been in Vietnam this time of year and witnessed a stuffed Santa on every corner. Carols wafting from storefronts decorated with lights and wreaths. Merry Christmas offered as a greeting and a blessing and wondering how to begin to explain that I am a Jew and don't celebrate Christmas. ( and neither BTW do Buddhists ) "Why not" I hear from here to Hanoi. It's just about the lights.

Well, I have lights. Eight glowing candles and one to light them each night, one at a time, until that menorrah is radiant with the spirit of my season. Celebrating a minor holiday in commemoration of a miracle that happened ( or not ) thousands of years ago where once again the Jews ( my people ) prevailed. The miracle now is that Hannukah is different from Christmas and all these years it has survived. It doesn't compete with Christmas; it's an entirely different and unique event. 

And I believe that self esteem comes from the pride one experiences when different is better than fine. It's not about the lights, the Christmas carols, all those Ipads and shiny new phones. It's about the swell in the chest when realizing that you can have your holiday and that I can have mine and although we are each different in our beliefs, we are all the same.

My most well remembered Hannukah present was a little baby boy who I grew to love and care for. The season is about including all those new babies and strangers into our hearts and homes. That's what fills our life with the miracle of lights. Let those lights shine and radiate around the globe so that no matter who or where we are, what we believe in personally, we teach our children that we are all the same.