Religion & Beliefs

Those big pre-Chanukah sales

With the digestion of yesterday's holiday turkey and the consumption of this morning's leftover pumpkin pie… Comes the biggest shopping day of the year.  Yes, millions of Jews hit the stores this morning for the massive blowout pre-Chanukah sales.  And … Read More

By / November 24, 2006

With the digestion of yesterday's holiday turkey and the consumption of this morning's leftover pumpkin pie…

Comes the biggest shopping day of the year. 

Yes, millions of Jews hit the stores this morning for the massive blowout pre-Chanukah sales.  And you were among them.  So now, muzak renditions of all your fave Hebrew melodies are ringing in your ears and blue and white wrapping paper is peeking out of every drawer in your house… right?  You took your kids to get a picture taken with Judah Maccabee, and you all ate pre-fab latkes in the food court.

No? 

Hmm……

Yesterday, listening to a (non-Jewish) family member talk about her plans to hit the stores at 5 AM today (!!!!???) to get a jump start on her Xmas list, I found myself thinking about how we can, as Jews, keep ourselves from getting pulled into the consumer insanity of Christmas.  Because so often, what little content-based/ religious/philosophical relationship we have with this winter gift-giving holiday disappears in a flurry of Christmas comparisons.

It seems that decade by decade, for many of us, Chanukah recedes a little further into the mist. 

So I thought to offer a cautionary note today.

STOP!  Think about what you want Chanukah to be in your home.  Figure out ways to make it more than greasy food and enough crap to keep your kids from feeling bad about "not getting Christmas." 

I'm asking for advice now… from readers.  How do you "do" Chanukah in a meaningful way?  Besides a few minutes of candlelighting and non-Santa wrapping paper, what makes it a real holiday for you?  What do you remember from childhood?

How can we keep it a Jewish holiday?

My few thoughts on the matter are these:

1. Rigidly observe the time when your candles are lit as family time.  No TV, video games, running off to talk on the phone. If you live with roommates, do something with them. If you have kids, play a game or read together. Make this time matter!

2. Buy gifts (if you're going to buy gifts) that build a sense of Jewish life (whatever that means to you).  Books that make people think.  Obects made in Israel.  Art.  Tickets to a (cool) Jewishy theatery thing. Donations to really awesome non-profits.  Games that will bring the family together. A trip to someplace amazing, something that connects your family to Jewish history/heritage even.  Lessons for music or dance or whatever is a good fit.  (I don't just mean old-peopleJudaica and boring holocaust books– DAD!)

3. Get out the photo albums and recap your own family history, in some loose connection with the story of Chanukah. 

4. Dig into the "real history of Chanukah"  Learn about the Maccabees, and about what the fuck was happening in Israel back then. It's gruesome and interesting and political.

5. Cook together.  Spend time in the kitchen as a family. I don't know why, but for me, these are the best moments from my childhood…. me and my sibs burning latkes together… the house filling with smoke. Somehow, the burning is as much a part of it as the eating. I'm not sure why.

In coming weeks, I'll be sharing some of the most interesting / meaningful Chanukah traditions and stories I can find… but in the meantime, let's talk about practical celebrations… What about you?  What's the best part of the holiday for you?