Man, Chanukah is a long holiday.
Tonight is the fourth night. That means that it started at sundown on Christmas Eve, and we’ll be lighting the last candles at sundown on New Year’s Eve. I tell you, having your holidays pegged to a lunar calendar is the source of endless amusement.
One year you get the holiday of lights overlapping with Thanksgiving, and another it’s taking you all the way to the end of December.
Since there are so few of us Jews, and Christmas is now officially over, it’s unlikely store clerks will continue to wish us a “happy holidays”. My hunch is that they will have moved on to “happy new year”. And that’s okay.
But maybe, just maybe, in the absence of other holidays to celebrate this week, people might consider trying out a secular celebration of Chanukah. Here’s my pitch.
How do donuts for breakfast, french fries for lunch, and chicken wings for dinner sound? If you said, “delicious” you’re well on your way to secular Chanukah bliss.
People insist that you don’t have to Christian to celebrate Christmas. I hear all the time that it’s just an American holiday. I mean, what’s religious about leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus in exchange for presents. There’s nothing particular Christian about a team of flying reindeer, or eggnog, or festooning a conifer tree with tinsel.
So there should be a corollary like this for Chanukah.
At it’s heart Chanukah is about the same thing that many of the Jewish holidays are about: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat. There’s nothing very religious about it. One could even say that it’s a celebration of a time when a small group of people was able to fight and prevail against overwhelming odds. Think more “Independence Day” than “Easter”.
Chanukah gets a bad rap though, for a couple of reasons. The first one is that our holiday songs are lame. They are. And that doesn’t even make any sense, because some of the best Christmas songs were written by Jews. I’m not sure why we couldn’t write any good songs for ourselves. Maybe it has something to do with self loathing. But that’s another story.
The other problem with Chanukah is that freaking dreidel. What a horrible game. Nobody plays it. We should just abandon it entirely. Even if you know the rules, it’s really not fun at all. Sure, it’s a gambling game. And yes, kids can play for candy. But even the candy is pretty terrible. Those thin, gritty, overly sweet discs of cheap chocolate, wrapped in foil to look like money? It’s not fooling anyone.
If anything, those sacks of “gold coins” only help verify Eric Cartman’s suspicions that we each have a secret stash of Jew gold.
Chanukah’s saving grace is its culinary traditions.
Forget about latkes. Those potato and onion pancakes aren’t for everyone. They can be an acquired taste. And even if you don’t want to dip fried potatoes in sour cream and applesauce, Chanukah can still be for you.
The important thing to keep in mind is the reason we eat latkes in the first place. And that’s because the celebration of the holiday romanticizes a story about “the miracle of the oil.” Let’s be clear about something. It’s not heretical to suggest that there was no miracle of the oil. Because there wasn’t. It’s our Santa lie. It’s a metaphor. It’s an allegory. In halls of study, people may talk about such things, but let the children keep their legends.
I’m okay with that, because it means a feast of fried foods for an entire week.
So just like I may make a special trip to the Indian grocery store and pick up a box of sweets when Diwali rolls around every year. And just how I might reserve a table at one of our better local Chinese restaurants for a Chinese New Year feast to celebrate the coming year of the rooster. I’m inviting all of you to join me in this deep fried odyssey in celebration of this ancient holiday.
The best news is that you don’t have to buy presents. You don’t have to wear an ugly sweater. You don’t have to sing songs.
All you have to do is eat. Which was exactly how I enjoyed my secular Christmas celebration. We joined Raf and his family for a holiday meal, with prime rib, a Bûche de Noël, and plenty of good cheer.
When that was done, and we arrived at the farm in Pennsylvania, there were donuts waiting for us. If you want to talk about Chanukah miracles, I’d put those donuts toward the top of my list.
Now, I’ve got to find more fried things to eat out here in Bedford. It’s going to be a fun week. At the same time, we have precious little time to talk about all the other end of the year wrap ups, and prepare for New Year’s Eve.
Busy. Busy. Busy. I’m glad to have these donuts for sustenance.