Quote of the day:
"A lot of it has to do with the environmental effect of having canned Christmas music in the speakers every time I go to the grocery store, for months at a time," said Ragan, a.k.a. Arun Once-Was-Zygoat. "Of all the 10,000 holidays that can be celebrated in this heterogeneous country, we have one particular version of this one holiday shoved down our throats all the time. In the most saccharin form." Krampus in Philadelphia
I heard this article on the radio yesterday, and looked up for more information about Krampus - to my horror and dismay. The idea of terrorizing children into being good at Christmas time was simply too much for my poor early childhood educator's soul to bear! I have never liked the idea of threatening children (even in a playful way) with coal instead of gifts. But terrorizing them with this Krampus tradition seemed too cruel for words. On the other hand, I understood Ragan in the quote above, because I must admit that I also feel at times that Christmas is shoved down our throats in a saccharin form.
I have learned about the rituals and habits of Christmas from life partner and his family members, movies, books, television commercials, and American culture as a whole. After all, I came to the USA from Israel, where I celebrated Hanukkah in a secular and traditional manner, mainly for my son's sake as he was growing up. I was happy to take on different holidays and rituals from the dominant culture in America so that I could feel part of the country I had adopted for my future life. After all, holidays, for me, are times when family and friends get together to shed light on winter bleakness, and traditions and cultures seem for the most part to have good will and compassion in mind. So who cares if it is about hope and light in the form of the birth of a beautiful new baby, or an oil lamp that miraculously shines for eight days!
Lately, however, I have been wondering why I do not make an effort or take the time to recognize the holidays that I celebrated for twenty years while living in Israel. I regularly make excuses: my son does not come home for the holidays so why celebrate them; or I do not know enough Jewish people with whom to celebrate [and yet I am not Christian and am willing to completely take on Christian holidays for the non-Jewish people around me … so why wouldn't they … ?]; and so on and so forth …
I know am not seeking out any type of deity in my celebration of holidays. More likely I am trying to find my place or feel included. In the process of learning about my self, more and more, I have discovered that my greatest fear, since I was a very young child, is that I am "excludable," "unlovable," or "undesirable," for who I am. And so I guess that I happily take on the "other's" culture without expecting (or even allowing myself to want) anyone to embrace mine … in order not to anticipate even the slightest discomfort from being rejected.
The other night at their final class of the semester, I shared my tradition of Hanukkah with the early childhood students. Each student received one clementine, one Hanukkah candle, and one Hershey's Kiss. Let me explain why I chose these three gifts: When I lived in Israel twenty years ago, in the winter we used to eat a lot of citrus fruits, especially clementines. And so for me, clementines symbolize the celebration of Hanukkah – even as latkes or sufganiyot have meaning for others. Each night for eight nights, we would light small, colorful candles in a Hanukkiyah by the window so that others could see the light shining from our homes. Chocolate coins were given to the children as a symbol of Hanukkah gelt (or money) at this holiday time. I gave out Hershey's Kisses instead, because I was unable to find the chocolate coins in time for class. Stores in our area were not selling them yet – Hanukkah must be too far off (less than three weeks hence) and most stores are intensely focused on Christmas right now. And so I chose dark chocolates to be off-set by the light of the candle – just for the fun of playing with symbolism. After all – isn't that what it is all about – symbolism?
I noticed that the students' faces lit up as I shared my holiday traditions with them – indeed, as I shared a piece of myself with them. It felt good to me – warm and inclusive.
So, now that I am no longer a child with ancient fears and painful emotional memories - perhaps I can make a conscious choice, and become includable by sharing all the diverse parts of myself while, at the same time embracing the other. We are surrounded by complexity. It seems that Christmas time holds cruel and dark memories for some – see Krumpus – being good and bad – deserving and undeserving of Christ's, or parent's love. Just as Hanukkah rises up out of a time of war and bloodshed, breaking down and building up a nation's heritage through temples and coins. For me, celebrations and the coming together of family and friends is tangled up in feelings of excludable-ness and being wanted for who I am.
I go downstairs and place small, colorful candles in the Hanukkiyah that stands next to our twinkling Christmas tree on the front porch. That way, when I share the candles on December 20th evening, people from the street might enjoy light from the Hannukiyah, together with the gentle, twinkling lights emanating from our Christmas tree.