liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
So I've just lit the first candle, and I have some bhajis cooking, and it's time to answer [personal profile] kass' prompt about chanukah:
Since Chanukah falls during December this year, how about a Chanukah post? Favorite thing about it, least favorite thing about it, favorite interpretation, a Chanukah memory -- whatever sounds like fun.

Basically my family tradition, which I continue, is more to have Ideological Issues with Chanukah than to celebrate it sincerely. When we were kids we marked the festival with Dad pontificating about how it's not the equivalent of Christmas and we shouldn't incorporate Christmas-style customs into it, Mum complaining about how it's mainly about a war victory where the 'wrong' side won, and Granny quoting with great glee a lecture she heard from classicist Simon Goldhill where he demonstrated that the story of the Maccabees couldn't possibly have happened historically.

But also with carefully taking it turns amongst the sibs to light the candles, talking about Euler's Gauss' [ETA: I apparently confused my young mathematician anecdotes, thank you for pointing that out] method for summing arithmetic series aka how we know you need 44 candles in total for the whole festival, and playing dreidl for raisins. Dreidl is basically a stupid game where you bet on a four sided die, and it's supposed to teach you not to gamble because the house always wins, but what it actually taught was that games of pure chance with no skill are boring, which is probably about equally useful.

So in spite of everything my favourite thing about chanukah is lighting the candles, and the sense of family that goes with the festival however much we're scattered. I really like offering doughnuts to my non-Jewish colleagues and telling them that it's a festival of fried foods. And I love latkes, we never had them growing up because my mother doesn't believe in deep frying, but once I discovered that you could grate potato and onion and make fritters with a little egg I was sold, and I don't care if it stinks out the kitchen.

My least favourite thing about chanukah is when well-meaning people trying to be multicultural want it to be the "Jewish Christmas". I would much rather hear carols at a carol concert than have someone shoehorn in a chanukah song, (especially since chanukah music is universally terrible, for reasons to do with the fact that it tries to imitate the worst things about American Christmas music, or else it's full of ideologically weird Zionism). I don't want to be rude to people who are trying to be inclusive, but I also don't love it when everybody is very proud of spending the whole of December wishing me "happy chanukah".

It's bad enough celebrating a festival about keeping our own unique culture and resisting being assimilated into the surrounding majority, not something I'm at all sure I want to celebrate in the first place. It's bad enough that our way of celebrating how not-Greek we were was to follow the Greek custom of instituting a new festival to mark an important battle victory. But on top of that, celebrating our cultural separateness and uniqueness by incorporating our festival into the Christmas of the majority Christian-ish culture seems really quite self-defeating.

My favourite interpretation remains the absolutely traditional story of Hillel, the opinion that we need to increase the number of candles lit day by day. Even though that's the wrong symbolism for the miracle of the oil where one day's worth of fuel lasted for eight days so presumably there was less and less oil as time went by. I love Hillel's opinion that you should always increase, and not diminish, joy. And it's just generally lovely to be lighting candles in the dark time of the year.

A chanukah memory: the first time I had latkes I was 15 ish, I was staying with an old friend of Mum's from university, who had offered me the opportunity to do work experience in her lab. (Which work experience included testing bone cells in simulated zero-gee environments, very cool stuff.) Anyway, some Chabad door-knockers turned up and asked Mum's friend whether she'd lit her chanukah candles yet, and she replied, with a wonderfully imperious manner: no, because I'm waiting for my husband the rabbi to come home from shul, and anyway, I'm in the middle of frying latkes, please go away.

Another thing I really like about chanukah is re-enacting the story, which is not very traditional, that's much more of a purim thing, but various communities I've been involved with have done that. So in the early 90s we were in Australia over the festival, with enough cousins together to put on a reasonable play. And being antipodean it was of course the middle of summer, and it was just tremendous fun, exactly the sort of thing I loved as a bossy teenager, organizing all the younger kids to dress up in robes made of sheets and hand-made props and put on a play for the very patient adults present.

Anyway, happy chanukah if you're celebrating! Does anyone know where I can source (in the UK) Fair Trade chanukah gelt / chocolate coins?

[December Days masterpost]

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-16 11:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Fair trade chocolate coins: yes, we have some spare because we needed 6 bags and bought 10. Alternatively, is where we get ours, and if you're lucky Daily Bread sometimes sell them.

And I like the Chanukah music, but probably because as far as I'm concerned it's being played by a cute wee harpist.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 09:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, I think we have some but I thought Colin had them and he doesn't think so so I'll check and let you know.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 10:10 am (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
Can't find them in the place I'd expect, I'm afraid. I'll check in Daily Bread when I'm next around there.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 04:42 pm (UTC)
ceb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ceb
If the Co-op have own-brand ones they'll be fair trade too, in case this is any use to anyone (I don't know if they actually do own-brand ones, but I do know that their own-brand stuff is all fair trade).

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-16 11:30 pm (UTC)
kass: Jon and Stephen from Stephen's Christmas special (chag sameach)
From: [personal profile] kass
I love that teaching from Hillel. Increasing light FTW!

I think I share your theological quibbles with the holiday. And yet I love kindling little candles in the darkness, especially now that I live in a place with more extreme seasonal variation than where I grew up.

Z was spinning a dreidl tonight and I was helping him interpret. "That's nun, it means nothing," I would say, and he would pout. "That's shin, it means put one in," and he would mime putting a coin in. When he landed on gimel, and I told him that means he gets the (imaginary) pot, he said, "I think I'm going to stop playing now and keep what I have!" and I thought, wow, kid, a whole lot of grownup gamblers never figure that out. *grin*

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 01:38 am (UTC)
watersword: Keira Knightley, in Pride and Prejudice (2007), turning her head away from the viewer, the word "elizabeth" written near (Default)
From: [personal profile] watersword
1. Oooh, bhajis.
2. I always love it when other people make the post I have been vaguely meaning to write.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 03:28 am (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Sorry to be that guy, but it's Gauss's Method, not Euler's. At least I'm pretty sure that's what you're talking about.

I also struggle with Chanukah's anti-pluralist sentiments. Though I'm not as opposed as you are to anti-assimilationist sentiment in general, I've come to realize that the anti-assimilationist sentiment as it's normally expressed on Chanukah is an ahistoric softening of some nasty attitudes I don't want to be supporting. I try to refocus Chanukah wherever I can as an opportunity to bring Jews of different ideologies together over our shared joy in the light of the menorah.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 08:28 am (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
Last night, I posted to Facebook "Ah, Chanukah. The festival of subverting religious fundamentalism." When queried "Thought it was about promoting...?", I replied:
When עַל הַנִּיסִים talks about God delivering the many into the hands of the few, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, it's not referring to the Hasmoneans killing the Seleucids but acculturated Jews like you and me. Yet we subvert their message: we read the many/wicked/impure etc as the Seleucids, and rather than celebrating Chanukah as the victory of religious fundamentalists imposing their One True Way of observing Judaism on the rest of the population, we reinterpret it as a celebration of the right to practice our religion free from Antiochus's antisemitic edicts. Even the Talmud, uneasy at the Hasmoneans' fundamentalist tendencies, deemphasises the military conquest as the miracle of Chanukah and replaces it with the miracle of the oil, which is not even referred to until seven centuries after the Hasmoneans' victory.
And my primary school headmistress responded:
Michael, relax for a change! Have a doughnut & a latke & stop taking everything so seriously! x

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 12:36 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Yeah, I tend to see that as "Chanukah, yet another holiday in which we tell ourselves lies about the history in order to pretend its origin story wasn't as nasty as it really was".

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 01:34 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
Yet another? Which holidays were you thinking of? The only others I can think of with nastiness in its origin story are Pesach and Purim, and we don't cover up the nastiness in those.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 06:08 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Well, I think there are definitely aspects of Pesach and Purim that I see minimized when I see people talking about the narratives of the holiday. In Pesach, the Talmudic narratives about the erev rav make me profoundly uncomfortable, for example. I also think of Tzom Gedaliah and Lag B'Omer as observances whose history is nowhere near as clean as their narrative.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 09:56 am (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
Sorry to be that guy, but it's Gauss's Method, not Euler's.

If it makes you feel any better, I would have posted that if you hadn't :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 05:21 am (UTC)
monanotlisa: Diana as Diana Prince in glasses and a hat, lifting the rim of the latter rakishly. HOT! (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
Joined my housemate today, who lit the candles and spoke the words.

May your Chakukah be full of light.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 04:47 pm (UTC)
ceb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ceb
We had chanukah doughnuts at work yesterday (described by the provider as "semi-traditional" :-)

Midwinter festivals++


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