Sunday, December 24, 2017

Snap Shots: The Holidays, and More As We Wrap Up 2017

It's over, Chanukah. but it was fun. 

It's traditional to wish people Happy Holidays  this time of year. Knowing we get at least a day off, we ask one another what is happening, how do we celebrate? Will there be a big turkey dinner? A ham, perhaps? 

It happened just last week. I have a new friend who swims at the same time I do each day, and she asked what I do for XMAS. Big dinner XMAS eve?

So I told her that no, we don't do that. But it brought back a very old memory. My brothers, me, and my parents, seems like it was always a Wednesday on December 24. The store, my father's store, finally closed for the holiday. This is before online shopping, so retail shops on the streets thrived in November-December. A family could eat all year on the profits for the season alone. So it was a celebration, and we DID have a big dinner, even if it was in the middle of the week, simply celebrating the end of the retail season and so much work. And it was great. 

Sometimes it would be on Chanukah, too, but not always. Because the Jewish calendar is lunar, the dates of our holidays are different each year.

And guess what? Chanukah is over, and yet people still want to know: 

What do you do on Chanukah? 

Why bother telling them it is over? Instead I tell them we can work during the day, but not at night while the lights are burning. Maybe we go to a Chanukah party with family or friends, but it isn't a big deal. This isn't a soul searching holiday, not one commanded in the Five Books of Moses, rather it is a celebration that we're still here. They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat! 

But it is more, of course, and the irony is that most Jews who skip out on the Sabbath (much more important) celebrate Chanukah religiously. Their parents assimilated, they are, too, and nobody told them that this is the anti-assimilation holiday. It is a victory over forced assimilation. We should call it the DIVERSITY holiday of the Jews, a celebration of differences. The Greeks said: Give up your Sabbath, close down your mikvah, burn your Torah--or face certain death. Not unlike the Spanish Inquisition! 

If we caved back then, would we even be here right now? Probably not. Jews don't go to war over nothing. 

lasagna, mock meat
potato latkas, the traditional kind
So anyway, getting back to what we do on ChanukahWe valiantly try to get home a little early on Chanukah nights to light candles (or an oil menorah, see above) at sundown. We add one flame each night, say a prayer, then settle down to a meal that is always too high in calories, usually with cheese, something oily, hence the latkas (potato pancakes). 

Do we give presents? Sure, to the kids, or money. Most of us don't even know where that tradition came from. If anybody knows, shoot me an email.   

2.  XMAS 

The gifts can get out of control, I hear. In family therapy they are described as a tremendous source of stress. 

There's a Moth podcast about a woman who feels compelled to buy an expensive wedding dress, even though she isn't a real "wedding dress" kind of gal. It's worth hearing, if spending money for the holidays makes you sick. Find Jesse Klein on The Moth Radio Hour for that. 

But three patients, the same day, three, tell me they have to give it up, the work of this holiday, Xmas. It is too hard. All the decorating, all the shopping. Enough is enough. One even said, "I'm telling people I'm Jewish," (meaning exempt from all the bother). 

But she has to be told. It has to be discussed. She's exhausted, she's depressed. The holiday is work, sure. But this has nothing to do with the work, not even with the materialism, or even comparative religion. It's all about grieving those people who are gone, the ones who showed the example, who did the work without complaint, who aren't here anymore, who probably should have just done less, but couldn't disappoint the kids. These holiday troopers are missed, more than ever, on those silent, holy nights, even with those complicated relationships that haunt us, looking back. And they aren't missed for the gifts.

Yeah, grieve them.


After we squirt out a few tears in a visit like that, I find myself asking my grumpy patients, "What about New Years? Is that fun?"

(To an observant Jew, January 1 is a pagan holiday. Most of us don't revel.)

And every one of them tells me what I already know, because I know them: "Nah, we never did that. For what? Why would we do that, go out with all the crazies who drink too much, risk getting into a car wreck? The streets aren’t even safe, and there’s plenty to watch on television. We're just going to stay home, maybe play some cards, eat popcorn."

Me, Too.  

Well, that's all the time we have for today, friends, for this year, probably.  May your holidays be happy. May you resist over-working (your mother didn't work outside the home, just a hunch). Do what makes you happy, as long as it isn't invading someone's personal or even psychological boundaries, and if you decide you want to take off and go to the movies rather than open another fruit cake with Aunt Martha, just do it. She's probably using Truvia by now, anyway, it will last forever in the freezer, or she bought it at the bakery or the local Jewell. She doesn't have much time or energy, either.


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