Three Things I Like About Chanukah:
- Latkes – Latkes are fried potato pancakes (there are other variations), and it’s traditional to eat them on Chanukah to commemorate the miracle of the oil. [Sufganiyot (doughnuts, typically jelly-filled) are also traditional, however, I hate doughnuts, and I don’t identify with the culture of people deeply excited for artisanal gourmet doughnuts for Chanukah at all.] But fried potato pancakes – yum!
- Minimal Religious Requirements – As Jewish holidays go, the religious requirements for Chanukah are minimal. No lengthy services! No special diets! No fasting! The only real commandment of the holiday is to light the menorah each night, which isn’t as onerous as other Jewish holiday requirements, like being ready for Yom Tov, cleaning your whole house for Passover, or building a sukkah.
- Chanukah Parties – The world of social events planned to attract young people in the Jewish community seems to think that Chanukah, Purim, and Simchat Torah should all be celebrated the same way – parties featuring lots of people, food, dancing, and drinking. I’m into it!
Two Things I Feel Neutral About
- Commercialization & “Christmasification” – Because Chanukah usually falls in December, Chanukah becomes more Christmas-y, more commercialized, and more assimilated. It is ironic that Chanukah has become the most assimilated Jewish holiday given that it’s a holiday about resisting assimilation. Personally, I’ve never identified with the “December Dilemma” angst. I don’t mind the dominant culture of Christmas. I find the commercialization of Chanukah, and the various hybrids of “Chrismukkah” somewhat odd, but I’m not really bothered by it.
- Gifts – Chanukah has a gift-giving tradition of sorts independently of Christmas. Although I enjoy receiving gifts as much as the next person, I find shopping for gifts for other people incredibly stressful. The pressure to find the right gift at the right time overwhelms me. I’ll categorize this as neutral, because gift-giving isn’t specific to Chanukah (so much of the gift-giving culture is influenced by proximity to Christmas), there are few people I’m obligated to buy a gift for this time of year, and I won’t pretend I don’t like receiving gifts.
The One Thing I Don’t Like About Chanukah: Publicizing The Miracle
There is a Rabbinic imperative to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. The menorah is supposed to be lit by a window so that the public can see them. The time for lighting Chanukah candles was determined in part by the time when a maximum number of people would be out and could see them. Public menorah displays are common.
You’d think the Big Party Judaism extrovert in me would love this kind of thing. And in fact, I do really enjoy public menorah lightings with a large group of people standing outside in the cold singing the blessings and Chanukah songs together in front of a giant menorah in a public location.
But I don’t like the requirement of publicizing the miracle by lighting the menorah from a highly trafficked, visible part of my home.
When You Publicize, People See In…
One night of Chanukah, I had reason to go to a fancy dinner at a high-end kosher restaurant in an extremely Jewish neighborhood. Walking up to the restaurant, I was struck by all the menorahs in all the residential windows.
I felt like I should have felt a sense of Jewish pride, seeing all these menorahs so proudly and visibly displayed. And I wasn’t embarrassed about being Jewish or anything. (Literally, my blog is named “Jewish Young Professional” – being Jewish is the least embarrassing thing about me)
But seeing all those menorahs meant seeing inside all these homes. Perfectly neat, pristine, functional, lovely homes. I imagined someone looking at the menorah in my window and peeking inside….and I felt sick with shame. It meant that anyone seeing our publicly displayed menorah would also be seeing inside our deeply broken and fucked up home.
Somewhat related, Public Displays of the Chanukah miracle on Social Media (this is not a religious imperative; this is just an annoying trend) also bother me. All those pictures of my friends in normal relationships and homes posting pictures of lighting the menorah with their kids…I post nothing. There is absolutely nothing photogenic about the way Chanukah is celebrated in my apartment.
But at least I can opt out of social media. Publicizing the miracles by lighting Chanukah candles in front of an open window – that’s part of the mitzvah.
Once Upon A Time, I Didn’t Care…
I remember Chanukah in the earlier days of this relationship/marriage. There was one year, 7th or 8th night, when we lit candles and wound up fooling around front of the menorah. Meaning, I ended up completely naked, fully illuminated by all those Chanukah candles in front of an open window. *facepalm*
And yet, maybe it’s just because time has passed, but I feel like someone seeing the inside of my home today by the light of the Chanukah candles is more embarrassing than someone seeing my bare ass. Like, the neighbors from that Chanukah years ago would have thought, “Wow, that girl is ugly, but it looks like she’s gettin’ some, so good for her” and neighbors looking in our window today would think, “there is something deeply wrong and broken about the person who lives there”.
Projecting Out vs. Inviting In
It doesn’t inherently bother me to project outwards. I actually like public speaking. It doesn’t take much for me to make a fool out of myself in front of a microphone. I enjoy going out and meeting people. Heck, I have a public blog where I write deeply unflattering shit about myself.
But I don’t like inviting people into my space. I don’t like hosting guests [also, I suck at all of the talents (eg. cooking, maintaining a tidy, well-decorated space, pretending that I enjoy having guests over) required for being a gracious hostess]. Of course, this goes against all ideals of a proper Jewish home which is supposed to be a model of hospitality for guests.
If publicizing the miracle was just about projecting outwards, it wouldn’t bother me at all.
Alas. At least it’s the last night of Chanukah, so no more of this till next year.