Coincide

Jan. 6th, 2017 06:52 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
So this year chanukah started on Christmas Eve. It's quite common for chanukah to overlap with Christmas, given that they are 8 days and 12 days long and usually roughly towards the end of December, but this year the festivals felt especially close.

It's interesting to watch social media when this happens; a few years ago all my Jewish friends were talking about the "December dilemma", ie anxiety about how much you should let your children join in with Christmas stuff in case they forget they're supposed to be Jewish, whereas most of my Christian / secular friends were largely unaware that chanukah is a thing. This year it seemed like most people were talking about how cute it is when the two festivals coincide, linking to articles about interfaith celebrations or cartoons of Santa Claus embracing a Jewish-looking person / personification of chanukah. And a really high proportion of my Jewish friends posted pictures of lighting their chanukah candles alongside their Christmas-celebrating friends and relatives, showcasing creative ways of celebrating the two festivals simultaneously while keeping the distinct nature of each.

This is anecdotal, of course, but if I'm right, it's a trend I'm in favour of. The December Dilemma is the most pointless thing; I have always been irritated by the idea that the ultimate expression of Jewish identity is Not Having a Christmas Tree. I am quite aware that nearly every Jewish person (outside the ultra-Orthodox world) has at least some non-Jews who are an important part of their lives, and increasingly many have non-Jewish immediate family, partners, origin family of converts, offspring who have moved away from Judaism, etc. It's much more productive, I think, to think seriously about how to celebrate with your loved ones for whom Christmas is important, without compromising your values and identity, than to make a big point of Not Doing Christmas (especially, as so often seems to be the case when there's handwringing about the December Dilemma, in the absence of any real positive expression of being Jewish.) I'm also aware that it's somewhat ironic to be taking this position around the festival of chanukah, which is to a great extent about keeping separate and resisting assimilation.

For myself, well, two of my partners and their younger children are religious Christians, and Christmas is a pretty big deal for my atheist husband (and for OSOs' oldest). The first Christmas we had was just after we got together and we were still working things out, and last year Chanukah was at a completely different time from Christmas. I don't think we got things exactly perfect this year, but we did lots and lots of talking and came up with ways of celebrating that were mostly good for most people involved. There's still tension between secular and religious Christmas, and I still ended up drawing boundaries (like not going to Midnight Mass) in ways that my people aren't completely happy with, and some other things were slightly awkward. But basically we had a really wonderful time with so much love and being happy for eachothers' happiness. Which was helped by the coincidence of timing; I was able to come home for the whole week leading up to the Christmas weekend, then actually take time off work all the way from Christmas Eve to the New Year bank holiday.

So I got to participate in some of Advent, joining my loves at church for at least some of the Sundays and a carol service. [personal profile] cjwatson's Dad joined us for that last, and he very charmingly congratulated me on being theologically open-minded enough to come to church. I missed putting up the tree and making Christmas pudding, mostly for logistical rather than ideological reasons. And I managed to find presents for everybody, which I had been somewhat stressed about as I have limited experience of having to buy a big pile of presents all at the same time, but I think I did ok.

Christmas Eve we did first candle of chanukah, and [livejournal.com profile] ghoti assured me that we didn't need to follow the advice I'd read in one of the interfaith articles about not making too big a deal out of first night to avoid detracting from Christmas. [livejournal.com profile] ghoti made latkes, and we carefully avoided arguing about whether they should be sweet or savoury, because we have a workround for the clash between her German tradition and my latkes-are-savoury one. Christmas day [personal profile] jack and I got our newly-traditional day of just focusing on eachother and ignoring the outside world and the internet for a while; I made roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and something I'd invented involving mushrooms, which we ate with a ready-prepared veggie main dish and a couple of sides. And as last year, we went over to join OSOs and their guests in the evening, and there were soooooooooo many presents. I lit second candle, and asked the assembled company for help with the story; Benedict told the light miracle centric version, while [livejournal.com profile] ghoti told the story of Judith.

And I did manage to get some time with my family of origin too, doing the thing we've always historically done of taking advantage of a time when the rest of the world is mostly closed down to do things that are not particularly celebratory but let us enjoy time together. [personal profile] jack and I went to my parents' for Friday night the day before the two festivals started, and met the Syrian refugee who is currently lodging with them. And on Wednesday parents drove me to Brighton and lit fifth with my philosopher brother and my sister, and had a big old political discussion – the Syrian chap had lots of interesting things to say about propaganda and US intervention in the Middle East. Didn't manage to see poet brother, but I expect we'll get together at some point. This was the first time we've not celebrated Granny's birthday on Boxing Day, so that was a little bit hard but mostly we were loving and mutually supportive in missing her.

Also in the middle of Christmas I turned 38, which is not a particularly exciting number except that the metonic calendar cycle is 19 years, so my Hebrew and secular birthdays coincided for only the second time since the day I was actually born. When I was 19 I was at Limmud and had a Jewish partner and was in a position to mostly ignore Christmas; this year it felt a very right part of a week of celebrations, and I lit fourth candle with my loves and made more latkes and was given birthday presents in addition to all the chanukah presents...

Oh yes, I've been absolutely overwhelmed with wonderful gifts this year. [livejournal.com profile] ghoti decided to follow the custom of giving eight presents for the eight days of chanukah. I managed to find something small for the younger children most days, as well as a couple of additional presents for the adults though nothing like the full eight. As well as lots of books which I've already mentioned, I got Kaladesh Magic: The Gathering cards from [personal profile] cjwatson and [personal profile] jack, and the Millionnaires' Row expansion for Machi Koro. And quite a few things that aren't the obvious gifts of games and books, a cute mousey cheeseboard, and a toy car from Andreas who often picks those when he isn't sure what to give someone, and jewellery, which I almost never get because I rarely wear jewellery. (For my bat mitzvah I specially asked my great-aunt for a star of David necklace, correctly predicting that just about all my other presents would be books.) Judith gave me a cute matching butterfly necklace and bracelet, which I've been wearing a lot, and to my astonishment, my mother gave me a rainbow necklace! It's made out of geology, with each colour a small semi-precious bead, and I love it to bits (and really must show [personal profile] kaberett at some point.) And [livejournal.com profile] ghoti gave me a bunch of gifts that were physical objects but also time and learning: a kit for making cheese, and spending the afternoon with me making gluten free chocolate cupcakes for the party, and some wool and knitting needles and a pattern for a kippah (skullcap) and lessons on how to use them. So I'm getting very much hooked on knitting, and feel extremely loved. Also she gave me and [personal profile] jack a canvas print of a photo she took of a polar bear, for we are OSOs which translates as bears, and I don't have words for how completely wonderful it is to have that in our home.

So I managed to spend every day of the eight of chanukah with people I love, and never once had to light candles lonely by myself in my little flat. Well, sixth we didn't quite manage to light, because we all went to London to see the Disney on Ice show, but that was certainly suitably celebratory. And OSOs found music for Maoz Tzur (I only wish I could teach it by singing, but I really can't) and played it for me on their cello and trombone, which was also really awesome. The last night was also New Year's Eve, which we didn't quite balance right; it's proving in some ways harder to combine secular with Christian celebrations than the more obvious clash of Jewish with Christian. But there will be other years and we will get better at this.

As well as my partners I wanted to mention that their children have been absolutely wonderful. They've been including me in their Christmas stuff, and caring about making chanukah special for me, not just the present giving and receiving, but all of it. Judith has been lovingly enthusiastic about the lighting and the story and all of it. When I told a version of the story based on imagining what it was like for the characters involved, to avoid too much repetition over the eight days, Judith pointed out that it would all have been better if Hannah had got involved and started a rebellion earlier, and not waited until all her children were killed. I said, well, before Antiochus started having people executed for refusing to bow down to statues of himself, there wasn't really any reason to rebel, things were generally ok. But I'm not sure I'm actually right. Perhaps the time to rebel against a corrupt political regime is indeed before the obvious tyranny and mass killings start. Andreas mostly didn't want to join in with the actual ceremony, but he's been paying attention; he asked me at one point how I know that God wants us to light chanukah candles, which he can only have got from listening to the detailed wording of the blessing.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-06 07:36 pm (UTC)
angelofthenorth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angelofthenorth
There's an interesting podcast on www.missedinhistory.com about the period leading up to Antiochus executing people, and it has lots of background. I only half-listened to it, but it seems pertinent.

It was lovely to see you on Christmas Eve. Can I book in now for December 12th 2017 for lighting candles with you?

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-06 08:31 pm (UTC)
ambyr: a dark-winged man standing in a doorway over water; his reflection has white wings (watercolor by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law) (Default)
From: [personal profile] ambyr
Lighting candles with other people is SO MUCH better than lighting them alone. It just makes the whole experience more focused and meaningful for me.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-06 08:31 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I mean, for me, the December Dilemma, such as it is, is aggravated by the War On Christmas nonsense. I got a nasty, aggressively Christian Christmas card from one of our suppliers at work, talking about how the real meaning of Christmas involves the Nativity and we shouldn't erase that. It'd be nice if I could have as much equanimity about it as you, or for that matter as my father. It'd be nice if I could just respond to such a thing by saying "I recognize that this holiday has religious significance for you and is important to you, and I am happy that you are celebrating it," but once they get my proselytizing hackles up, it's not that easy.

And it's not like the liberal goyim are making it better: There was a whole, incredibly uncomfortable conversation on Facebook among some of my friends about how they- atheist non-Jews all- wanted to start wishing each other a Happy Chanukah as a protest against the aggressive religious Christians pushing Christmas. And it's like, I don't really care or find the act offensive on its own, but it does assert a claim to a holiday that they find meaningless and I find important, and it's bothersome to me that they care so little about it that they can play games with it like that.

So, since Christmas has been weaponized against me, I feel anxious about the intrusion of Christmas.

Of course, Chanukah is a minor but significant Jewish holiday for me, which I observe with Hallel and Al Hanisim as well as by lighting the chanukiah, so it's a thing that has substance of its own even though it doesn't dominate my life for the week the way the Shalosh Regalim or Yamim Noraim do.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-07 01:26 am (UTC)
kass: Yuletide dreidls (dreidl)
From: [personal profile] kass
The December Dilemma is the most pointless thing; I have always been irritated by the idea that the ultimate expression of Jewish identity is Not Having a Christmas Tree.

OMFG YES. I get up on this soapbox from time to time; I can't seem to help myself.

My kid experiences (some form of) Shabbat almost every single week. Surely that is more formative to his Jewish identity than the fact that in his father's house there is a decorated evergreen at midwinter!

*

For me the most fun thing of the two holidays colliding is that I got to use my dreidl Yuletide icon on dw appropriately!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-07 04:11 am (UTC)
doseybat: (Default)
From: [personal profile] doseybat
Wow, it sounds lovely. I am always learning from you from religion can be, and how it is possible to do it well.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-07 06:37 am (UTC)
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)
From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid
It sounds like a lovely time spent with your family and loved ones, and a very nice blending of rituals, both personal and faith based.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-07 01:45 pm (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
My family didn't celebrate Christmas - this never felt like a "dilemma" to me or anything, it felt pretty angst-free, it was just something that we didn't do, just like we didn't eat meat, etc. Having married into a culturally Christian family, I am happy to do Christmas with them but it would have felt a bit weird to do it with my family of origin.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-07 10:49 pm (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
Yes. My husband got rather annoyed when a rabbi talked to him about raising our son Jewish. I was like "If he asks you again ask him how many other two year olds in his congregation can recognise and name a shofar."

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-08 04:42 am (UTC)
azurelunatic: Axial tilt is the reason for the season. (Festive red & green text; diagram of Earth's axial tilt.) (axial tilt)
From: [personal profile] azurelunatic
My family dealt with the tension between the solar cycle calendar and the Christian festivities by starting the celebration on the Solstice, and (very practically) giving both of us kids one or two books each day. It spread out the celebration some, so it wasn't all focused on one awesome-or-terrible day, and (crucially) kept my sister and me entertained and out of each other's hair for the vacation. We could have had all those books on one day, but that wouldn't have been conducive to household peace.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-09 11:30 pm (UTC)
kass: "Judaism is my other fandom." (judaism)
From: [personal profile] kass
Ahahahahaha well, yes, it's true that people give me less grief about this now that I am a Professional Jew For A Living. :-)

And oh, I love that icon of yours so much. אלה הדברים indeed.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-09 11:32 pm (UTC)
angelofthenorth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angelofthenorth
It's easier to make plans a year ahead. I've got a good chance of actually seeing you then :).

It would be nice to see you over here :)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-11 02:10 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I feel like some of our difference may be an America/England thing.

The history of assimilatory pressure for New York Jews is such a complicated thing, and I think a lot of people don't realize just how much the pressure was coming from other American Jews. You know the meme about how all of the classic American Christmas songs were written by Jews like Irving Berlin and Mel Torme and so on? A lot of Jews, myself sometimes included, take an ironic pride in that today, but the ur-reason for it is that in the early 20th century a lot of Jews observed Christmas. Not because they had Christian family members or Christian friends, but because observing Christmas was "what Americans did" and the new Eastern European immigrants were being pushed as hard as possible by people who often had coercive power over them (aid workers, English teachers, political machine officials) to become Americans as quickly as possible. (And to be fair, I can't totally fault the coercers, especially the Jewish coercers, because I think they recognized the powderkeg they were sitting on, as hundreds of thousands of impoverished members of their own despised race flooded into America and forced the anti-semitic and nativist establishment to respond to their existence.)

I see the December Dilemma as being the ambivalent response to the rise of identity politics and the rejection of this old melting pot definition of Americanism. Jews today generally recognize that observing Christmas as Jews in order to be American is a basically inauthentic practice, in a culture where 'authenticity' is so important to personal identity, and where concern about 1920s anti-semitism has dissipated. But at the same time, they are living immersed in it and a lot of the coercive pressure to observe it still exists in the cultural ether, particularly passed down generationally: if you're a Jew whose parents had a Christmas tree (or stated more strong, whose parents felt obligated to have a Christmas tree), you may have conflicted feelings between the sense of inauthenticity and the sense of it as an acceptable, normalized practice. The strings behind the coercion are less present now that American Jewry is more self-sufficient, so it's sort of the ghost of that coercion that still lives.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-12 03:23 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I do agree with you that chanukah can fairly easily coexist with big cultural celebrations (or with weeks in mid-December with no special significance) because it just happens, and doesn't take over your whole life.

This is sort of the opposite of what I was saying! A lot of identity-anxious Jews emphasize the minor-ness of Chanukah as a way of distinguishing it from Christmas, and I think for a lot of Jews, Chanukah is JUST lighting the chanukiah and maybe exchanging gifts, a blink and you miss it observance. What I was saying is that even though it's comparatively minor, it does have religious substance for me: Shacharis davening is twice as long, because of the additions, because of the themes of recognizing Hashem's constant intervention in the world that we are emphasizing. I'd be aware of Chanukah even if it didn't coincide with Christmas. I worry that emphasizing the minor-ness makes people think Chanukah is less significant than it is.

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