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]
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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