It’s The Wednesday Writers!
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Today we hear from my friend Jen Hoffer, who lives across the street. (Post written in December 2017).
O Chrismakwanzukkah, O Chrismakwanzukkah!
My family and I were watching the live version of A Christmas Carol last night, which is based on a small Midwest town’s Christmas celebrations. My other half turned to me and asked, “When you were growing up near Los Angeles, you didn’t get to experience things like a grand opening of a Christmas display in department store windows, did you?”
“Nope”, I replied, “but I’m pretty sure you didn’t have Kosher pickles and matzah ball soup alongside the Christmas ham!”
We all have our holiday traditions, each one as unique and different as the people who represent them. We watch movies and shows, seeing Hollywood’s take on the “traditional” holiday setting, with it’s perfectly decorated trees and perfectly wrapped presents. But the reality is that our holiday celebrations are more than that. They are messy, loud, frustrating, quiet, quirky, happy, sad, and busy. The holidays bring about memories and remind us of stories from long ago.
I come from a family with many different cultures that have melted together over the years. My mother’s side of the family is Jewish, my father’s side of the family is Catholic/Protestant. We have a mix of Irish, German, English, Norwegian, and Mexican family members who have added their own twist to things over the years. Our family LOVES food, and some of my earliest memories of the holiday season involves unique foods people may not associate with the season. One of my favorites is bagels and cream cheese with lox, onions, and capers (tastes WAY better than it smells) on Christmas morning while opening presents. We also would make latkes (potato pancakes) with a little bit of butter and sugar on top (don’t knock it till you try it). I remember visiting my paternal grandmother’s house and smelling the spicy scent of “Happiness Punch” (apple cider, Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, orange slices and cloves in a crock pot for the adults), and receiving a box of homemade tamales from my Aunt Mary. After I got married, I learned about homemade Orange Julius, scotch eggs, and the amazing Krumkake (cookies in a conical shape filled with yogurt and whipped cream). If I haven’t made you hungry by now, you have amazing willpower!
But the holidays aren’t always about the food. It’s about the stories and the history of such traditions. One of the traditions that we celebrate in my little household each year is Hanukkah. I jest with my friends when I say it’s eight crazy nights filled with fried food, gambling, and fire. It is so much more than that.
In truth, Hanukkah is a minor festival in the Jewish calendar. Our most sacred days land in the September/October with Yom Kippur and Rosh Hoshanna. But it gets a lot more attention due to its proximity to Christmas.
But what is Hanukkah? Why is it important?
The story goes that a group of rebel fighters called the Maccabee were standing up for their religious freedom from a tyrannical ruler named Antiochus IV Epiphanes circa 200 B.C. Antiochus had desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by building statues of other gods within the temple and slaughtering pigs in the sanctuary (BIG kosher no-no). Over several years, the Maccabees took back the Temple and took on the task of cleansing it, worthy of being a place of Jewish worship again. Once completed, the Temple had to be rededicated in a special ceremony, but there was only enough untainted holy lamp oil to light the temple for 1 night. I took just over a week to prepare and deliver more oil for the temple, and the lamps needed to remain lit in order for the rededication to be valid. The miracle witnessed was that one night of oil lasted for eight nights, just long enough for more oil to be prepared. This miracle was a blessing after so many years of turmoil. Hence, the word Hanukkah means “dedication.”
But what does it really mean to us? In my family, at least, it reminds us that God is present in even the smallest miracles. We use this time to prepare for the Christmas holiday by thinking of ways to help others. Next to our Menorah that we light each night is a little metal piggy bank to donate money to the needy. We go through our possessions and look for things to donate to food banks and churches. In a season where the mass media focuses so much on the materialistic aspect of the holidays, we try to hold on to the meaning of our traditions.
What are some of the traditions you celebrate with your family? Think of the some of the silliest or even the most somber celebrations you share with your loved ones. Ask your relatives or Google the history behind such celebrations. You might find some new reasons for the season.
Jennifer Hoffer lives in Post Falls, Idaho with her spouse of 12 years and her family. She has a 19-year-old stepson in college and a 7-year-old daughter, along with 3 dogs and 3 parakeets. Jennifer holds a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration and Communication and works for a local healthcare system. Jennifer is also the Social Media Director for LYDIA Inc. (a non-profit organization to help families with counseling and services, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico). When she isn’t working, she spends much of her time geeking out on fandoms with her friends (such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who, and all things Disney) and getting beaten at video games by her kids. Jennifer is also the creator of the Healthy Hobbit.