Hello from North Haven!
The first night of Chanukah is tomorrow! Once I dig the wax out of the menorahs and stock up on candles, I’ll be all ready. Presents are wrapped, grandparents are coming out for the weekend, and I know where the adaptor for the grating blade of my food processor is (making latkes isn’t nearly as fun if you’re grating potatoes by hand!)
Chanukah visibility, especially in central Maine, is tricky. Since becoming a parent, I’ve become extra aware of the ubiquity of Christmas imagery. Penrose adores it, in fact, and we’re looking forward to Christmas in California, complete with a tree, The Nutcracker, lots of family, and tamales. But often I find myself feeling a little lonely and a lot frustrated this time of year.
This year, though, something feels different.
This year, our community center hung a “Happy Hanukkah” banner in the window, right above the “Merry Christmas”. This year, a menorah and two Stars of David have joined the baubles and snowflakes on the garland under the coffee bar. This year, a little “Happy Hanukkah” picture and message showed up in their weekly e-newsletter.
Those might seem like tiny things, and not many people will even notice, just as they didn’t notice their absence before. But I notice, and it’s just enough acknowledgment that I feel like Penrose and I are included in the holiday spirit. It means a lot to me.
The blanket “Happy Holidays!” greeting that many default to is great, too. There are certainly more holidays this time of year than just Christmas and Chanukah, clustered around the seemingly miraculous fading away and return of the sun at the Winter Solstice. And for someone you don’t know personally, it’s nice to not assume that they celebrate any holiday in particular. “Happy Holidays” has its place. But for a Jewish person in an isolated community, the feeling of being seen, heard and acknowledged with Chanukah-specific holiday greetings is rare and wonderful.
I like to wonder what other little ways communities can find to include all of their members in the holiday spirit. I love, for example, Augusta and Belfast’s town menorah lightings. But thinking small is ok, too: A dreidl cookie, alongside a pile of Santas, Maoz Tsur on a holiday program with Children, Go Where I Send Thee?, an Omisoka community cleanup, a Kwanzaa day of community action – these would all send a message of visibility and inclusion if they fit with the demographic of a town.
For this year, when I light my menorah tomorrow evening, I’ll know that in a small but significant way, my town is celebrating with me.