The Goldberg Variations: Merry Mazel Tov!


The first night of Chanukah falls on December 1st this year – and if you didn’t know that, then welcome to the club. A casual survey of Jews and gentiles alike leads me to believe that pretty much no one realized how early the holiday would begin this year. Even those of us who “celebrate” Chanukah think of it as coming right around Christmas – and I put “celebrate” inside snarky quotation marks because no matter what Jewish parents tell our kids, Chanukah really is kind of a snooze. Plain, boring, and a little bit sad, it is the ugly step-sister of holidays.

For Jewish children, Chanukah is the consolation prize they get because Christmas is not their holiday. What started out as a minor occasion in the Hebrew calendar has been tarted up with gifts and chocolate coins in a desperate effort to compete with Christmas (or as it’s more commonly known: The Best Holiday Ever.) Over the years I have tried to get my kids amped up about the Festival of Lights, but no matter how many times I read them The Pop Up Book of Chanukah, they remained largely unimpressed. Every year I would wage a hard-sell campaign to interest them in dreidels – those iconic symbols of the holiday that are also massively un-fun playthings. But  I always felt that I was selling them on something I myself couldn’t get too worked up about.

Look at the facts: Christmas features festively decorated evergreen trees that twinkle with fairy lights and smell like happiness – Chanukah has a candle holder and it smells like fried foods. Christmas has Santa, flying in on a sled delivering huge piles of toys and goodies. Chanukah has one good present on the first night, quickly followed by inferior gifts for the next seven (by the end of the week my kids are getting Number Two pencils and throat lozenges). Christmas has Jingle Bells, The Chestnut Song and Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer – Chanukah music is all about minor chords and aggravation.

The biggest disappointment for Jewish children is the lack of a tree, a deprivation my kids have been whining about ever since they first learned to talk. But that’s hardly their only complaint about this ho-hum oil-based occasion. So, in a last-ditch effort to drum up holiday spirit, I have devised a new and improved way to present Chanukah to my family: this year I have gone to great pains to play up the fact that Chanukah is based on the fact that early Jews were able to get eight days of light out of oil that was supposed to last for just one night. Looked at this way, Chanukah is all about optimizing non-renewable resources and getting the most use out of fossil fuels. My daughter is a fervent environmentalist, and I had big hopes that this argument would help her to finally love Chanukah – for its eco-friendliness if nothing else. Smug and self-impressed I pointed out to her that Chanukah was probably the first holiday that could be considered green. “Christmas trees are green,” was my daughter’s sad and hopeful reply.

I give up.

Editor’s Note: Susan Goldberg is a slightly lapsed treehugger. Although known to overuse paper products, she has the best of intentions – and a really small SUV. Catch her column, The Goldberg Variations, each week here at EcoSalon.

Image: seantoyer