December 24, 2003

lights

I havenít written about the holidays yet, have I? And here it is, the middle of Hannukah. Also Christmas Eve. Not to mention three days after the solstice, five days before my birthday, and eight days before the advent of the new year. Smack dab in the center of the winter holiday season.

We have a menorah with lovely multicolored candles, tall and delicate, which means I break more than I light, but hey. Theyíre pretty. I donít know the prayer well. In fact, every year I have to ferret out the email I got when Damian was a baby and we celebrated for the first time, I have to print it out and read it (badly) from a wavering page. Iím good at lighting the candles, though. The ones I didnít break, I mean. And Iím very good at watching them burn down in a dark room. Ghostly. Remembrance of a miracle of light that took place thousands of years ago, witnessed and celebrated by people whose blood flows in my veins, whose genes determine the color of my hair and the shape of my nose, whose sacrifices and struggles shape the fact of my existence.

We also have a fir tree with tiny white lights splashed like dewdrops all over the green along with red and gold balls we bought the first year we had a tree, that first year of Damianís life, and other ornaments accumulated in the five years since: the silver icicles and stars my mom brought one year, the gold doves she brought another, the stuffed penguin on a sled we bought at a tacky but fun craft fair, the Pikachu with flashing lights someone gave us along the way, the elegant blue glass ball we acquired one year in Cambria, the trolley car we picked up in San Francisco, and more. A tree filled with memories and meaning, just the way we wanted it. On top, a star. Gold. With six points. A Star of David for a non-Christian tree.

Weíre not a traditionally religious family (can you tell?). Iím Jewish by culture and ancestry and that suits me. I was raised to value my Jewishness while not actually knowing much of the rituals. That doesnít suit me so well. I wish I knew more. I wish it felt more organic to my life. But I do like that Iíve never been forced into a box labeled with any particular religion and yet Iíve been given the awareness of a long, rich, and painful heritage. My son is fully Jewish by the tenets of the religion, but heís also half Gentile. Dan is himself born of a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. Damianís heritage is undefined, or maybe over-defined. A plethora of possible definitions. And so perhaps he can enjoy it all. His friend Corey doesnít celebrate Christmas. His friend Jules doesnít celebrate Hannukah. Damian celebrates both. It works for us.

The point, I think, is to celebrate the dark of winter, the coming of the light, the pleasure of my motherís company, the holiday from work and school, the cyclical calendar shift from a waning old year to a waxing new year with its gift of possibility, anticipating the rotation of the earth and the newness of the approaching spring while we look back at the last year and contemplate what changed and what didnít. Since my birthday falls just three days before New Yearís, I end up looking at my face in the mirror and contemplating my mortality, my regrets and achievements, hopes and fears. Mostly hopes, though, Iím an optimist.

Ultimately, itís simpler to just look at the tiny lights on the tree in a dark room filled with holiday music, watch the candles burn down on the menorah, and sip a cup of tea with a spicy warmth that curls into my chest.

I like this season.

Posted by Tamar at December 24, 2003 04:52 PM
Comments

Tamar,

What a beautiful entry! As my family and I celebrated Christmas Eve last night, with all the traditional fixings of my childhood that always include potato salad and wieners, I looked around the table that included my husband, my two sons, their wives, one grandson (who is 1 year old and cute beyond belief *smile*), my stepdaughter and her husband, my niece and her jewish husband and was truly thankful that we could be together and share this evening. Not necessarily as a religious holiday, but as a chance to get together and appreciate each other and all our differences.

I also thought about my jewish cousin in Israel and hoped for some peace in her life.

Having grown up in post-war Germany, with all the guilt that entails, I was so thankful that in our own small, unimportant way we contributed to harmony and peace in this world for maybe just a second.

Posted by: Renate at December 25, 2003 08:56 PM