The season of light

by Debbie Carini

When a Jewish man marries a Christian woman (or vice-versa), there is one thing they can both whole-heartedly embrace during the month of December: lights! (I would like to add eggnog here but my husband, the Jewish partner, does not see the appeal of 8 ounces of yellow-y milk containing 345 calories, 19 grams of fat and 35 grams of carbohydrates, while I am chugging and smiling with my new, golden mustache!)

But back to the lights. For Christmas celebrants, this is the season of twinkling LED sparklers in the tree, the front yard bushes, on the lawn, along the eaves and…well…pretty much anywhere you can imagine that is close enough to a plug.

For Hanukkah observers, there are beautiful menorahs in every shape and size. There are menorahs crafted of metal, ceramic and glass—in every profile imaginable from Noah’s Ark to moose antlers, as long as there are 8 candle holders symbolizing the 8 nights of Hanukkah and a ninth for the shamash or “helper” candle, which is used to light all the other candles. I’ve seen a giant, lit menorah on top of a Hummer in a parade, and in New York City there is a 32-foot-high, 4000-pound candelabra that is so large it must be lit by a cherry picker.

The first time our customs meshed, my husband found himself standing in front of a pokey, blue spruce with uncommonly sharp needles. I had handed him a strand of lights and expected him to kick-off the decorating, just as my father always had, by starting with the lights. After 5 minutes or so, I returned to the living room to find him still standing in the same spot, the lights draped across his arms. This is the first time I truly understood that, for my husband, Christmas Day was Chinese food and the movies. 

I tried to show him how to place the lights, but the tree’s needles were so sharp that I could barely stick my arms into it. I finished the decorating wearing industrial-strength rubber gloves.

Fast forward several years, and we are continuing our tradition of lighting the tree and the menorah, only now we have 2 toddlers. I am shooting video while my husband is holding our daughter (3) and our son (1), trying to teach them the Hebrew blessing that precedes the candle glow. 

In a sniffly little voice, our son (who often had a stuffed nose), cries, “I want to do it.” And so my husband holds his hand and together, they light each taper, it is the seventh night, so nearly all the candles are ablaze. There is a brief moment of sheer peacefulness and awe and then suddenly, my son reaches out to pick up the entire menorah, sending lit candles flying everywhere. The rest of the video is a little like The Blair Witch Project, the grainy video of college students lost in the woods—there is screaming (me) and crying (my son) and deep sorrow (the last image on the video is of my daughter, her head in her hands, stating, “You should never do that” to her brother).

Somehow, through the years, we’ve managed to not burn anything down and to enjoy the customs of both of our traditions. And every night throughout this blessed season, our house sparkles with strands of blue and white bulbs, signifying that people who like lights live here. And these people love family and friends, and wish to celebrate all that is good and cheerful and giving in the world during this festive season. From our twinkling house to yours, happy holidays!

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