Wow. It was really hard to find a picture that represents the Winter holidays. Everything is pretty much Christmas related. And the one I finally did choose basically looks like someone was trying to make an effort to include Chanukah in their Christmas celebration so someone wouldn’t feel left out. Here’s a little secret. Jewish people, as a rule, don’t feel left out of Christmas. We feel left out that our holidays and beautiful traditions are not openly observed in public. That’s not really the same thing. People seem to understand these days that Chanukah is not the “Jewish Christmas,” so that’s a start. It is a completely different animal, and if you want to learn about the history of the holiday, please feel free to peruse Wikipedia.
Another little secret: Do you know why there are so many different spellings of Chanukah? Well, I’m not really the expert on everything, even if I would like you to believe that I am. But here are a couple of facts. First off, many Jewish children go to Hebrew school starting at a very young age. They are taught the pronunciation of all the letters and sounds. One of the sounds is the CH- sound. In English, this would sound like the CH in cherry, chat, chop, or chill. But in Hebrew, it is totally different. It sounds like the horrible noise people make when they are trying to hawk a loogie (I looked this up to make sure I got it right). Sorry to be so gross, but it’s true. It comes from deep in your throat. Most people who don’t speak Hebrew or other languages from that part of the world just can’t make that sound. It comes out like an “H.” So that is why there are CH spelling, and H spellings. And also, it is a Hebrew word, transliterated into English letters, so you can just spell it any way you want, as long as it sounds the same. Now you have some trivia to share at your next office holiday party.
Holidays are important to most people, and the December holidays are an institution in the United States (many other countries as well, but I don’t live in them). Shops close down, work is closed, the government comes to a halt, and even the mall isn’t even open (Walmart might be, I don’t know). Large amounts of food are consumed, and families and friends gather to celebrate and inevitably to reopen the wounds of all of their childhood slights and traumas. Some people look forward to the holidays, and others dread them. I love holidays, but I just don’t love other people trying to push their traditions on me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like to celebrate with people who have different backgrounds than I do. On the contrary, for as long as I can remember, I have been part of my friends’ Christmas celebrations, and they have been welcome to light candles and eat latkes with me on Chanukah. So that’s why holidays take a very important role in my book series, “McKinney High Class of 1986.”
I have kept most of my stories non-denominational, but there are mentions of Sally in “May I Have Your Attention Please” celebrating Shabbat on Friday nights by lighting the candles with her mother. And she gets a lot out of these familiar interactions. All of the books mention yearly holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s, and of course, there is much ado over Christmas in every story. Schools are closed, the snow has fallen, and the characters are preparing for two weeks of non-stop family fun. But since this has not been my experience every year (Chanukah goes by a lunar calendar so it spans a different 8-week period every year) I thought it would be a good experience to educate my readers about my holiday. I keep it kind of simple and fun. It’s always fun to be with your new love over the holidays and spend time getting to know their family. So that is the context of my winter holiday scenes. James learns about Sally’s family traditions, and in turn, she spends time with his family, learning about their experiences.
Not all of my characters have the best holiday seasons. Sometimes, it’s their first time away from home, and they miss their family and friends. Sometimes, they expect someone to be there with them, and they just don’t show up. Sometimes, they are experiencing a significant personal issue, and they don’t feel that they are ready to share it with their family just yet. Sometimes, the holidays were no big deal in their family growing up. And sometimes, they suspect that it might be the last Christmas they are able to spend with someone they love. No one character experiences the holidays in the exact same way as their friends. I think this is important, because this is like true life. Everything is not always ribbons, bows, and happiness. Sometimes, things are hard, and you find a (figurative) lump of coal in your stocking. Hopefully, everything gets better over time, but forced cheerfulness does not make all of the problems go away.
We are all inundated with Christmas movies this time of year. “White Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Santa Clause, I, II, and III,” and “Elf” (my favorite). Then there are Lifetime and Hallmark movies about coming home for Christmas and meeting your true love after they first try to take over your ranch to build a racetrack or something. These movies are Hollywood’s way of telling the masses how they should feel during the holidays. If you start out as a Grinch, the true meaning of Christmas will make your heart grow several sizes. If you just believe, you will get your heart’s desire. Everything that hurts will be remedied, and everyone will have a Merry Christmas. I think people like these movies because they aspire to have a holiday season just like they have seen in the movies their whole lives. And that’s fine. I hope they do have a holiday just like that. But I also think it’s important to know that not everyone is in the same situation for one reason or another. And if we want our friends, family, and strangers to be okay, we have to remember that we need to be there for them on the other 364 days of the year as well as on Christmas day. Not everything is fixed by a mug of eggnog.
So let’s continue to share our experiences with the people we love or the people we would like to love and teach them about what is special or troubling to us, about our holidays, and about our lives. Let’s make them part of all of our traditions, and value theirs as well. And let’s make space for everyone over the holidays. Even people who say things like “Bah humbug!”
May the rest of your year be exactly as you would want it to be.