Hanukkah lights

I was looking for something with a flashlight when Kiddo#3 said to me, “Remember when we celebrated Hanukkah or Kwanzaa?”

I admitted I remembered neither of those things. Because, as it turns out, we have never celebrated Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. 

It’s true that if I were forced to change religions right this second, I would convert to Judaism in a heartbeat. My religious studies degree had a concentration in Judaism. And I do try to keep aware of the Jewish calendar and the holy days, just because it feels right to me. But I don’t celebrate the holidays. More like I honor them in my heart. I wouldn’t have involved the Kiddos.

I had no idea where Kwanzaa came from in this equation, though, so I asked Kiddo#3 what he meant. He could only repeat, that time we celebrated Hanukkah or Kwanzaa?  Take note of that uptick in his voice at the end, denoted by the question mark. He’s actually asking me *which* we celebrated, not whether. In his mind, it was a done deal that we’d celebrated one of them.

His school takes the three weeks before the “winter break” to let the preschoolers explore Kwanzaa,  Hanukkah and Christmas. The kids learned a bit about each of the holidays in a very generic rough-and-ready fashion. No deep theological truths were imparted. I did appreciate that the holidays weren’t simply ignored as they were in Angeltown, but rather that we have a diversity of songs and holidays to choose from rather than pretending we’re all going out and buying a ton of gifts to celebrate the start of the ski season.

All well and good, but my son really wanted to know which we’d celebrated, and he wouldn’t accept when I said we’d never celebrated either.

But then, as he insisted we had, something triggered in my head, and I said, “Honey, that was a blackout.”

It was a dark and stormy night — really, it was, sometimes there are just stormy nights, and this time it got suddenly dark because the power went out. And what did I do? I found our flashlights.

And then I got out candles.

I placed the candles in our ubiquitous flower vases (every time we get flowers, they come in a vase) and had them in different rooms, or carried them through the hallway. Somehow, my son retained that memory and when his teacher told the children about the Menorah, he translated it into his own experience. The darkness. The cold. The curiosity. The tension.

For him, that night without power transformed into a holiday, a festival of lights in his memory.

And in the morning, power restored, we could rejoice at the invisible thing which made possible everything we took for granted until it was gone.

Maybe in a way he’s right that we experienced something holy.


  1. Cricket

    Reminds me of the Big Blackout the summer of 2003.

    One of the features of religious celebrations is the communal power. At this very moment, families everywhere are lighting a candle and praying these words. They have done so for generations, and will do so for generations more. We are taught by our grandparents, and will teach our grandkids. It’s a very powerul image.

    In 2003, we all BBQed in the back yard and met the neighbours — something sadly lacking in air conditioned Southern Ontario. We filled each other in on which parts of the city were backup, and worried over whether they’d actually be able to get the entire grid up. We hoped people in bigger cities, without fresh breezes, could manage, and hoped the farmers and animals, last on the list for power, would get by okay.

    Some cities hold an annual blackout challenge that day. It helps us remember how fragile the grid is, with a mixture of seriousness, celebration, history, and promises for the future.

    Not nearly as powerful as a religious holiday, but still significant, in part because it affects so many of us.

  2. whiskers

    I did an article recently on the winter holidays. If you want to see some easy to understand info for him, go to: http://media.www.iusbpreface.com/media/storage/paper1358/news/2008/12/03/News/Winter.Holidays.To.Drive.The.Cold.Winter.Away-3566484.shtml


  3. Ivy

    My friend has a daughter in public school. The teacher tried to teach the holidays to a class of mostly atheists, one Scientologist, three Buddhists, and five Jews. So she taught “Noel”. When they got to the part about “the king of Israel” one of the other kids turned to my friend’s daughter and said, “I thought Israel has a prime minister.” She replied, in perfect imitation of her mother, “What do you expect from a public school?”

  4. blueraindrop

    there is a messianic jewish church a couple of miles from here.. i’ve often been curious and thought about checking it out during the holidays last year after kiddo’s comment about celebrating harmonica…. but i’ve never quite gotten brave enough. lol

  5. Ivy

    Hanukkah’s not all that interesting really. You’ve got the menorah, the dreidel, and the latkes. Ho hum.

    Now Passover, that’s the time to go. Or Rosh Hashannah. Or Purim. Kids love Purim.

  6. Ivy

    Oh, or Simcha Torah. Now that’s something to see.