Sunday, December 10, 2006

Let There Be Light(s)

Hanukkah begins at the end of this week. And as you might imagine, with Christmas only a ten more days after the start of Hanukkah, the community is already ablaze with lights of all sorts, including our neighbor's home next door.

The week they put up their lights on the trees outside, the interogation began: "mom, why don't we have lights? Why only candles on Hanukkah? Grandma in California has a tree, why don't we have a tree? ". That sort of thing.

I grew up with Christmas trees inside, but never had the outside light experience. Maybe that was even too much for my mom (culturally Jewish, if not participating). It was always strange to know I was Jewish, but we had a tree and "celebrated" Chistmas. Here we have been attending the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (ERUUF for short), and mostly I feel very positive about it. Both the "old minister" (Mary, the assistant minister) and the newly installed minister are terrific and I feel a sense of peace whenever I enter the sanctuary. But I always feel a bit like a fish out of water, too. Because as generalist as they try to be, and as accepting of all people and all faiths as I know they are, it is still referred to as a "church" by many and feels, well, not Jewish. That is not a criticism, it is just a statement of fact.

So when the holidays roll around (the serious fall ones or this time of year, for Hanukkah), I try to immerse Sofie in all things Jewish. We have a stack of books about Hanukkah and lighting candles and we have played several rounds of driedel, but this year, she started asking me "why couldn't we have lights outside, since although she was Jewish, she was also Unitarian". I finally decided that lights, if they were that important to her, we not gong to destroy her or my sense of identity, not really. Then the tasteful side of me wanted to encourage her to do all white lights ("boring") or white and blue (a gesture, however lame, to Hanukkah). Also rejected, she wanted colors.

So we went off to Target, my source for all things, and I was befuddled at the choices! Strands ranging from a few feet to many yards, twinkle type or not, indoor for sure or indoor/outdoor. And how exactly was I to find the extension cord that would run all the way to the side of the house where the only (known) outlet was?

After many questions posed and answered by the distracted and overwhelmed looking sales associate at Target, I made my choices and we left. And went home to attempt to decorate the house (still striving for tasteful). We have two little evergreen type trees that our friend Beth used to stage her house a few months ago, then gave to us. Perfect for my first foray into holiday lighting!

A bit later, as she plugged in the lights, she just glowed. These are her contribution to our house, her responsibility to turn on and off in the morning. And she can look out from her bedroom window at nightime and see them. All in all, the light in her eyes was more significant to me, but I got it.

The lights are part of her experience. And now they are part of mine. On Friday, I am taking our Menorrah to her classroom with another mom and explaining Hanukkah to the first through third graders, complete with some jelly donuts and driedels to play (and gelt, of course). Me, the girl from Queens who did not light a menorrah until I was in my forties. And Sofie and I are practising, so she can say the prayer with me.

We are kind of making it up as we go along. Some nights we join hands and say a little blessing before we eat. This is something our friend Paul did when he was with us in the bay area, and I like to do with her sometimes. Tonight, visiting new friends (from ERUUF) and having a spontaneous supper with them, Sofie suggested we say a blessing. And she did! I was totally charmed and also aware that she is beginning to develop her own sense of the sacred. And she is only six.

The spirit of the holidays, all of them, is everywhere. You just have to look.

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