Where Have All The Dreidels Gone?by Dani Alpert
In honor of Chanukah, I’m re-posting this adorable tale from last year with some updates. I know it borders on lazy, but I’ve got latkes to make and gelt to buy. And it’s not like anything has changed. It’s as timely now as it was 12 months ago. Sad. But true. L’Chaim.
I live in a small beach town in New Jersey and the holiday season is upon us, as evidenced by Christmas trees strapped to car roofs, and strings of lights on every friggin thing that’s not moving. I get it. But what seems to be forgotten is that this holiday season also includes Chanukah. Or that kickass of all Jewish holidays, "the festival of lights." All I know is that as a kid it meant eight guaranteed presents! It’s a cliche but, compared to the pomp and pageantry of Christmas, the festival of lights kind of blows.
However, as an adult, I’ve come to dig the ceremonial candle lighting, now that I finally understand the meaning of Chanukah (it was lost on me until I had to explain it to my boyfriend’s son) And now, as the Girlfriend Mom, I spread the guaranteed eight presents tradition to the kids. Who’s their best Jewish friend now? My boyfriend’s son lights the candles, and it touches me. Deep down now I know that he does it because the matches and fire ignites his inner pyromaniac.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, my beach town. Lawn decorations are in abundance, as are those on porches and in storefronts. Those Christians sure do love ginormous inflatable Santas and nativity scenes. And God bless. If someone wants to inflate a baby Jesus, who am I to judge? I do not live in a Jewish neighborhood, although there is a teeny tiny temple tucked away between two teeny tiny streets, that was all but invisible until Hurricane Sandy took down some very large trees. Lo and behold, there is a Temple in my quaint little beach town. But my question is, would it be too much to ask to see just one inflatable menorah?
People’s own homes are one thing, to each his, or her, own, but what about in public stores and restaurants? It feels strange not to see menorahs in the windows, or a friggin’ Dreidel. It’s unfair, especially since Chanukah usually starts before Christmas (as it does this year) or overlaps with Christmas, as it did last year. There’s a Jewish deli on one of the corners in town, and there’s bubkis in the window.
All holidays should get equal stage time.
Full disclosure: Accepting a Christmas tree and decorations in the house where I live with my Portuguese lover has been a process. Truth be told, from a style and taste perspective, I’m not a fan of standard fair tree ornaments or holiday pillows. I do like the lights, though.
Further disclosure: We, my Jewish family and I, used to celebrate Christmas. We were those reformed Jewish families that you might have heard about. We lived in a two bedroom apartment and my dad always brought home a tree, whose top branches brushed the ceiling. I never questioned this and I certainly didn’t question the Christmas presents under the tree. These were in addition to the eight Chanukah presents. Of course some of those Chanukah presents were things like, socks, gum, saline solution for our contact lenses, pencils, and film for our Instamatic cameras. You know, the fun stuff.
As the years marched on, our humungoid Christmas tree was downsized to a Chanukah bush. I never really understood that. The bush part I mean. Like a burning bush? Unbeknownst to me and my brother, Daddio was slowly finding his Jewish roots, and we were slowly losing our Christian Christmas. If you were to ask my mom why we celebrated Christmas, she’d say that it was never a religious celebration but rather an opportunity to decorate. And wrap. The woman is an expert gift wrapper.
Away went the glass balls, that would break if you breathed on them the wrong way, and the tinsel. Gone were untangling the lights to be hung around the tree, that often brought about cursing, and stomping out of the living room screaming, “Why are we doing this? We’re Jewish!”
Out with the old, in with the artsy and whimsical ornaments, usually made out of wood, or clay. We had moved to a bucolic country town, and my mom thought that stringing popcorn and ornaments made by the Amish were less "Chistmassy." She was in friggin denial.
By the time I was in college, Christmas consisted of stacking presents in an antique rod iron sleigh. Mom was channeling her country chic-ness. My dad had had enough of trees and bushes. It didn’t feel right celebrating Christmas, so we found our way back to a menorah, and only a menorah.
Cut to present day. My brother married an Italian and Scottish woman, and my nephews now celebrate Christmas, just like my brother and I did when we were their age. And now I celebrate Christmas (just the decorating part) with my boyfriend and his kids. It’s an ongoing process of acceptance, in spite of my upbringing.
This is what couples do, right. I’m sure Katie Morosky and Hubbell Gardner (“The Way We Were”) celebrated Christmas and Chanukah. Of course they ended up divorcing, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t over a game of Spin the Dreidel.
If I can light the candles in my new bicycle menorah, then my boyfriend can hang his climbing Santa, that rings, sings, rattles and shakes. Because we’re practicing tolerance and love here.