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The house glows with the beauty and joy of Christmas. A simpler approach this year left some of the glitz and glitter in the box to save for another year. Carols hum dreamily on the playstation3. Last year Gary replaced my 200-disc-changer with the PS3. I pouted and mourned the loss of the familiar but ailing player . . . until I got the hang of the new gadget. A year later I have loaded nearly every cd we own (MANY!) into the slim little box and labeled them by genre. Now with a few button pushes I can choose an artist, an album, a genre, a track . . . the list of options just goes on. My favorite choice? Genre SHUFFLE! By selecting Christmas genre and Shuffle we have every album randomly accessed. It’s like I have my own DJ. It drives my kids a bit bonkers to have a snippet of Handel’s Messiah follow Judy Garland’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but I think it feels wonderful to “shake it up” a bit. It’s like having a smorgasbord of music (and you know how I like choices).
My love of variety spills over into our celebrations as well. No single “Tradition” exemplifies our Christmas. Some years we pick a country and celebrate as they do. We’ve celebrated in all the ways of our ancestors, including: Germany, England, Norway, and France. Other years we agree on a theme such as “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” (Some of you may remember that as I blogged it – see the Christmas archives for some fun photos and reminiscences.) Each year our menus change as do the guest lists, with some years finding me stuffing tables into little-used corners as we accommodate a crowd, while a different year includes a quiet candlelit meal for just this family. Sometimes we dine buffet style, other times in elegant courses of five or six. Whereas the Thanksgiving menu and traditions rarely vary, the Christmas month has no road map. We like the adventure of Christmas as we journey to the Stable each year to pay homage to our King. That has become our sole tradition.
This year we will celebrate without extended family as they all have other engagements. Though we will miss everyone, the gift of a quiet Christmas is a rare treat indeed and we intend to celebrate it joyfully. The early part of the December month hangs heavy with birthdays, teas, and all manner of gatherings, but the last stretch lies calm and quiet like a shepherd’s plain in Bethlehem. The still, silent nights will leave us time to hear and see and receive Christmas as the shepherds did so long ago. I have no idea what will transpire. Will a chorus of angels break through the night sky? Will we be treated to a warm and cozy togetherness such as Mary surely smiled to receive on that birth night so long ago? Regardless the details, our calendar will remain intentionally open to the unexpected, unplanned, and most welcome miracles of this precious season. We shall come to the cradle with open eyes, open hearts, and open days to celebrate the newborn King.
Being largely “unscheduled” this season I have already seen a rare gift in serendipity. At the library’s monthly booksale last Saturday I came across a book of eight Hanukkah tales by Isaac Bashevis Singer. I added it to my bundle; at a mere 50 cents I couldn’t resist the pristine hardcover book with a child’s name self-scrawled on the inside cover. The little book of tales fell among cookbooks, classics, and even a Colonial Willliamsburg Christmas craft book (Lydia’s tea table next Saturday will be decorated in this style – how wonderful to find a step-by-step craft guide for that fruit pyramid we are planning to make). I always find the most wonderful treasures as I hunt the shelves and tables of donated books.
Once home, I brewed a pot of tea and set about sorting and leafing through the stacks of books; like our music, I sort books by genre – how else to find anything in this cottage of books!?! The Hanukkah tales fell into my hands right away and I made my way to the cozy chair for just a peek. I ended up reading some aloud, wiping tears in between the memories of God’s miraculous ways in the life of His chosen people. I had expected an informative book about the events of the temple and the oil and all the other bedrock traditions of Hanukkah, but what I found surprised me: Memories woven across eight nights to inspire families to gather, remember, celebrate, and endeavor to be instruments of God’s miraculous ways.
The recollections of hardship, suffering, loss, grief, and destitution mingled with laughter, games, and feasting all wrapped in the warm glow of candles burning in the window or by the doorway to invite others to celebrate. Memories of a Grandpa played out alongside other fairytale-like miracles of rescue from starvation, loneliness, and even Nazi oppression. Among the tales wafts the memorable smell of latkes frying in the oil. Latkes! Potato Pancakes! Yes! My memories dance with remembrances of Gary’s Grandma Walpus standing over a hot pan frying shredded potatoes into a crispy cake to dress with applesauce.
Though not Jewish, she came from the Old Country (first Prussia, then Germany, now Poland – man messes with borders so often throughout history, doesn’t he?) and brought delicious recipes that she taught to her daughter and even to me, her grand-daughter-in-law. Though there flows no Jewish blood in either of our families, I do have a tiny delicious connection to Hanukkah and it has been YEARS since I fried up a batch.
As I told the children of my potato-pancake memories they begged me to make a batch. (I confess the oil splatter messes up everything and I do not like that – but as the Hanukkah celebration makes oil the star, how can I resist?)
“How about if we celebrate the last night of Hanukkah with some Latkes, eight candlesticks in a row (with one more to do the lighting), and a few more stories from this book?” I asked.
“YES!” They chimed.
“Can we play the dreidel?” asks Rachel, hoping for a chance to enjoy a favorite (and often times ONLY) game played by Jewish children.
(Where will I find a dreidel in Grass Valley? We have but one toystore in town and no synagogue that I know of. Could be a challenge. Hmmmmm . . .)
And so an empty spot on our calendar will become a sympathetic celebration of Hanukkah. I do not know all the details and am not even attempting to celebrate Hanukkah “correctly,” but rather in spirit – the spirit of Christmas that seeks to bridge the world with Peace and understanding; the spirit of Christmas that sent a babe to a manger for all to meet in a common place and find hope, peace, and so much love.
I can already see that setting out to spend these Christmas holidays on a quiet hillside above the fray will yield most wondrous results and memories, and quite possibly add some new traditions to these days as we pause to ponder and wonder and celebrate the God King come to earth as a child: The True Gift of Christmas.
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Until next I write . . . Shalom!
I just got home from the local bookseller with dreidel in hand. Much to my surprise I do manage to find everything I need in this little bit of a town -- even a Jewish Hanukkah top! (Now I'm off to read the instructions and practice a bit before the kids discover my success.) : D