Friday, December 11, 2009

Old Pennies



Tonight begins Chanukah, a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but festive and filled with light.

As I polish the menorah and wrap Hedgie's first little gift, I'm in my usual strange December state of mind. I'm Jewish, but surrounded on all sides by Christmas--because, of course, I don't live in an 18th century shtetl. But as I do every year, I begin to feel stirrings of rebellion somewhere deep inside.

It helps me to remember the old pennies. Every year at Chanukah, in preparation for our game of dreidl, my Grandma Eva pulled out the bag, sagging under its own weight. The pennies smelled funny, felt funny. But they held strong symbolism: of our family together, our precious faith and tradition that set us apart from others. A tradition that we had to be brave enough to hang onto in the face of the temptations of over-assimilation.

Our December holiday, though its story is grand and momentous, is truly humble in its celebration--potato pancakes, a game of tops, little presents, candles flickering in the early darkness, and, of course, the bag of old pennies.

No, Christmas is not my holiday. And these little Chanukah traditions are all I want--these, and nothing more, exactly as it should be. I don't mind being different.

44 comments:

mapstew said...

Wonderful!
A Happy one to you and yours.

(Different is Good!) :¬)

xxx

underOvr (aka The U) said...

Hi Leah,

It's the differences that make us who we are. Those same differences can have a bonding effect; bringing and keeping us together.

U

The Unbearable Banishment said...

You can embrace the spirit of Christmas for its secular qualities. I sure do. I bailed out on Catholicism a long time ago but you'll find no greater champion for the season than me. I find it particularly easy to do in New York!

nick said...

I loathe Christmas, it's become completely over the top and mega-commercialised. It seems to mean very little nowadays except showing how much money you can spend and how much food and drink you can stuff down.

Chanukah sounds like just the sort of modest celebration I could enjoy instead.

MJ said...

My only experience with the dreidl is watching Ms. Renee sing The Dreidl Song on Pee Wee's Christmas Special.

Leah said...

nick: yes, you would love Chanukah! I'd have you over for latkes if you lived closer!

Leah said...

MJ: I will definitely have to check out Ms. Renee. I love Pee Wee.

The Clever Pup said...

Happy Chanukah, Leah.

Leah said...

Thank you Hazel!

xo

Ronda Laveen said...

Such a poignant post and well stated. Enjoy your specialness during this Chanukah, because you truly are.

I don't really know what I am...more spiritual, I guess. I celebrate all religious holidays. They are so powerful and grounding all at the same time. Tonight, I will light candles and honor Him. I may even pull out my pennies and lay some around the candles. You are right, they do have that special smell. I hope this is not offensive to you.

Blessed be.

Leah said...

Ronda: not offensive at all, very very lovely. I guess my thing about Christmas is more of a defense mechanism. It is so hard to preserve one's Jewishness in a largely Christian culture. It would be different if I were Orthodox, and lived insularly among other orthodox Jews. But I am progressive, and assimilated. I just refuse to assimilate all the way.

I respect your spirituality very much, Ronda. You are a deep person, and I mean that sincerely.

Leah said...

Map: thanks! different is good!

U: I do think it's important to maintain the differences that make us "who we are" (well said), and then we can come together as real people!

UB: I have to disagree, but gently. I don't believe in secular Christmas, not for Jews. Christmas is still Christmas.

Martin H. said...

Leah

We don't buy into the awful, commercialised, media-driven mess that passes for Christmas.

We exchange simple gifts and enjoy the warmth of having family around.

Enjoy Chanukah. It sounds just perfect.

Leah said...

Martin, that sounds wonderful too. Lovely. I think commercialised Christmas stresses everyone out, and only detracts from what would be a very special time for those who celebrated. It is so nice to be able to celebrate just how you like without pressure!

Brian Miller said...

i could not help but smile as i read...and think that you may be better off for your traditions...enjoy them.

mago said...

Ja. Nes gadol haja scham. HAve joy.

By the way this fetishized donut suffers from a shotwound.

Leah said...

Brian: I do like my traditions--but admire yours, too, from afar.

mago: ah, you know all about that, eh? and in Jerusalem we always said "nes gadol haya po" ("po" meaning "here" rather than "there").

Thank you.

And the donut does look injured.

Pearl said...

Sweet, Leah. There is a place for tradition, and you've reminded us of that.

Pearl

Karen ^..^ said...

I've come to loathe Christmas as well. I'm not conventionally "Christian" nor am I conventionally anything. I do despise the crass commercialization that Christmas has become. I want to yell out, "Happy RETAIL contrived Holiday, everyone!!" Because that is all it amounts to for most people anymore.

I'd love a small festive traditional celebration. Instead of this sorry monstrosity this time of year has become.

savannah said...

Happy Chanukah, sugarpie! Y'all know my situation, so I'm guessing the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene we put up for Miss Daisy would make y'all smile. We honor her tradition, but I'm still going to the movies (Holmes opens) on Dec. 25! My SIL can step in for a change! xoxoxoxo

Baino said...

Happy Chanukah and i like that it's a modest celebration of something significant. I just like Christmas because it's one time that our family gets together to 'break bread' we don't go overboard either. It's a nice meal in the sunshine and lots of wine and fun. I prefer to think of Christmas as a more pagan celebration hijacked by the holy rollers and commercialised by Hallmark!

Jimmy Bastard said...

Don't ever change hen, you make me smile with your never ending charming tales, which are both entertaining and heart warming.

Traditions and symbols... we both agree are good for the soul.

Leah said...

Pearl: my traditions are my anchors...my sine qua non. Even when they feel like a burden sometimes, lol.

Karen: I do know people who have refined their celebrations of Christmas in a very lovely way, full of light and spirituality, or just togetherness and good food...for me the worst part, and most people indulge in it (Jewish and Christian), is the mad rush for gifts. I've never understood that--if it's not fun, if it's stressful and if the post-holiday bills are overwhelming, then why do it? A question for the ages.

Savannah dear: thank you! And you've reminded me about "Holmes," which I'm so excited about. Perhaps Christmas day would be a good time? Or maybe, just maybe, all the people escaping a little too much family togetherness will be likemindedly thronging the theaters...

Baino: your Christmas sounds wonderful. I adored your post awhile back about Christmas foods and the funny hamper of doom.

Leah said...

Jimmy: thank you for saying that. I'm beginning to feel that, between my snowy melancholy, dreams of straight razors and all of that, I'm becoming a real buzz kill. Your words are very reassuring.

e said...

You---a buzz kill??? Never!

Shabbat Shalom ! Happy Chanukah!

I almost had a fire frying latkes last year...I don't mind being different either!

The Girl from Lokhandwala said...

Being different is what's refreshing and yes, to see generations safeguarding traditions gives a warm, contented feeling of always carrying your family in your heart. Happy Chanukah!

kylie said...

hmmmm

oh dear, i could say so much

tell ya what? i'll go do some stuff and try to process a bit more then i'll be back


happy Chanukah

subby said...

Never assimilate! I like what Martin H. said and find myself seeming to do this a little bit more, as the years pass by.

Candie Bracci said...

Stay yourself always and be who you are,follow your heart.

It is a beautiful tradition and much more meaningful than another who became commercial and who don't really have a meaning anymore than to sell.Sad to say but it's true.

I have a profound respect for people who follow traditions because they really believe in them not because "they have to".We should seek the symbol behind Christmas which should be fraternity,give to others not just eating and drinking.

Nurture that beautiful part of you,you're lucky.To me Christmas is now for the kids and the occasion to see my dad who is not living next to me,as my family is all broken there is nothing more but thanks to you and your posts,I will have a thought for those who aren't there anymore and the ones who are not so lucky that evening.

Happy Chanukah!

Much love to you and yours

Pat said...

Vive la difference and have a good one;)

lettuce said...

I love the symbolism of light - it seems to be universal, or almost. And I love the symbolism of the pennies -Hanny Chanukah Leah!

...mmm... said...

Yes, i think you should enjoy it for all it's worth. i hope this week's festivities are simple and serene Happy Channukah! but meaningful to you as well.

Lizzie said...

Leah, what a beautifully, heartfelt written post. The holiday seasons is for YOU to celebrate as you see fit and believe. You are not required to celebrate it for anyone else. I loved reading about your tradition and learning a bit more about the Jewish holiday.

Have a great weekend. :)

Liza said...

I love the photo, and your post. Break out the Halva!
Happy Channukah!
Thank you for sharing this.

Madame DeFarge said...

Enjoy Chanukah. i'm not religious and Christmas has little meaning for me, but I respect those for whom any tradition has a deeper meaning. And I like you being different.

Megan said...

A festival of lights sounds like my kind of festival.

Tradition in my family began and ended with my paternal grandmother. It doesn't help that she left us at Christmastime...

Merely Me said...

Happy Chanukah! Happy Everything!

But! You so have to fetish something besides the jelly donuts. Get rid of them...darn it! ;)

Merely Me said...

...have you seen...

http://www.catherinesanimals.com/#mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=2&p=1&a=0&at=0

Leah said...

e: aw, thanks for not admitting I'm a buzz-kill, lol! And happy Chanukah to you too! I bought about a ton of potatoes and onions, manfully intending to make them for our little party this evening. I couldn't face all the grating, and so have put the project aside for tomorrow...

Girl from L: I guess we're all different in our special ways, when I think about it. It's just this time of year makes me feel extra different. Guess I'll just embrace it.

Candie: thank you so much for the thoughtful comment! I send my best to you at this season--it can be sometimes a little hard, with all the expectations to be festive, even when one doesn't feel it. xo

Pat: I like that: vive la difference! I'll raise my glass to the differences. xo

Lettuce: definitely, you're right--we all of us, who live where the nights are long this time of year, celebrate by bringing light to the darkness. It's nice to be able to share that.

...mmm: love that handle! And thank you for your sweet comment.

Lizzie: what you say is so true, we should all celebrate the holiday season exactly as we want to...all that pressure notwithstanding. Thanks for visiting and happy holidays to you too!

Liza: I totally meant to get some halvah for my party today, and then forgot! I have to introduce my daughter to it. I wonder if a taste for halvah runs in the family?

Leah said...

Mme: oh thank you for that! Chanukah has been very nice and mellow so far. It goes all week, and Hedgie is looking forward very much to lighting the candles every night, and receiving her little gifts. Her enjoyment is enough to make me enjoy it...

Megan: it seems like so many of us have suffered losses during this season...all the more reason, I suppose, to light a candle in the darkness. xo

merelyme: don't worry, I got rid of the donuts! They are traditional for Chanukah, called "sufganiyot," and in fact we ate some tonight.

and I LOVE those animal prints! The hedgehog is especially wonderful...

kylie said...

i have been thinking quite a bit about Christmas of late. obviously it's got little to do with Chanukah but the comments here kept me thinking.....
Christmas should be a good time for me because of the emphasis on family, the opportunity for holidays and especially for it's spiritual significance. Unfortunately it comes at the end of the academic year, which means extra school events to attend and attend to, there is the secular aspect of the celebration to organise with gifts & food etc, the end of the working year has added pressure because of the imminent close down and if there is anything of a personal nature to attend to it has to wait or be finalised before Christmas because so many businesses close sydney is at a semi standstill right through january.
all of this to work with often means that Christmas can be strained and i honestly have no answer to it.
added to all of that are extra church activities such as carolling and carol services. those things came about as a way of sharing Christ's love but under the circumstances they can become just another demand, which leaves me compromised further because of the guilt that comes from viewing Christmas as burdensome (at least some of the time)
so, i try to balance all of that stuff and keep some kind of wonder about the season but at this point a quiet festivity looks pretty good.

as i wrote all this i wondered idly: do Southern hemisphere Jews regard Chanukah as more difficult than Northern hemisphere because of the same intersecting events?

Ponita in Real Life said...

Happy Chanukah, Leah! Traditions are such an important part of family life.

I've not a religious bone in my body and so Christmas has always been about spending time with family and friends. Yes, we exchange (little) gifts, but the major part of the season is seeing everyone, visiting and laughing and sharing part of our lives.

My parents made traditions for us for a number of the 'religious' holidays during the year, which never involved religion but built on the togetherness of family, which holds a lot more meaning for me than anything else.

Leah said...

Kylie, wow, your season sounds unbelievably jam-packed! It's not even that intense here, and I guess it is because of the end of your season. And I'm sure Jews feel it too...

It seems a shame especially if the spiritual aspect of it loses its luster--but I have to admit to feeling that way sometimes around the Jewish holidays, if a lot of other stuff is going on. Even going to synagogue or having a holiday celebration at home can be a burden--and then, like you, I feel guilty and also robbed of something, somehow.

But then, when I'm actually in synagogue or doing our rituals, usually I can find peace. So I guess making sure that that part of it has its place is essential, even if it seems like one more thing.

What a conundrum.

Leah said...

Ponita: you know, I think probably even the religious rituals have more to do with family, and feeling connected.

I must admit, I do enjoy the presents that come with this time of year, for both Christmas and Chanukah. As long as it doesn't involve a scrum at the mall...unless of course, one enjoys that! I'd never deprive anyone of extreme shopping that they enjoyed!

Your celebration sounds just lovely.