Gingerbread lattes in visually seductive red cups, Michael Bublé crooning renditions of classic holiday songs and the joy on the faces of cheerful gentiles . . . it’s all enough to sweep even the most observant Jew into the “tis the seasons” and eggnog induced stupors. I’ve fallen prey to the seductive commercialization of the holidays more than once. The idea of a warm hearth and brightly decorated home usually trigger my nesting emotions. (I promise, I’m going somewhere with this).
As a university freshman I briefly dated a nice young Jewish man a year my senior. Though our relationship was destined to fail, he loathed orthodoxy, this dalliance with romance—my first—was great. I found expression for emotions I had never before been able to release. Particularly vivid from our time together is when I took my then boyfriend to my German club’s holiday Kaffeeklatsch. Proudly I introduced him to my professor as “mein Freund.” “Ein Freund,” my professor corrected me. The possessive “mein” made my statement mean he was boyfriend as opposed to simply a friend. I knew what I had said, so I smiled and gently reiterated my statement. I think she was slightly shocked, but she accepted it and the festivities continued. That relationship ended a short while later on a particularly warm December 25.
I’m embarrassed to say that the very next year I fell prey to the very same mistletoe infused emotions. This time I went a bit further and attempted to date a non-Jew. I both smile and cringe when I recall that our first date was spent building a gingerbread house. He was sweet, charming, looked adorable with a Santa hat on and wished me a Merry Christmas. Talk about destined to fail.
It’s these experiences and others that make me appreciate the lessons of Chanukah. Falling into the trap of hedonism and the simple of thrills of secular life is so easy. Admittedly, standing behind our windows, kindling our Chanukiot and knowing that, even though Chanukah may not permeate every aspect of society like Christmas does, we stand on a greater path is sometimes a challenge. Sometimes we just need to pull ourselves out of the holiday haze and remember the sacrifice of the Maccabees and what it stands for. I only really learned to appreciate Chanukah because of the relationships I attempted. I succumbed to the holiday spirit and found that nothing lay there for me. I came to understand that those eight little lights (and countless sufganiyot) represent a purpose and a meaning that has survived millennia, despite the prosecutions and unyielding temptations.
I still smile at the sight of a wreath hanging on a door and the Starbucks red cups make me giddy, but I now know that my future resides in something greater.
The first night of Chanukah is Tuesday, 20 Dec. Light with pride.