Usually we spend Saturday nights with our three grandchildren. Their busy-busy parents take the opportunity for long walks and/or dinner in a restaurant. Every now and then we carry along something we want to share with the kids--a book, barrettes for the girls.
Without talking with one another, I knew each of us was prepared for something one of them might say about the shootings in Clackamas Town Center here in Portland or Newtown, Connecticut. Most likely would have been Zach, our oldest grandchild at ten years and very aware of the world around him. But he did not. They do not watch or hear television news.
We had a wonderful evening with Elie, the four year old. She has a longer attention span than a few months back, more interest in many-paged stories. She amused us and herself trying on a headdress--probably from a Hanukkah party she'd enjoyed.
Earlier this month, I copied and gave to several people in the non-sectarian retirement community where we live a New York Times op-ed piece, "The True Meaning of Hanukkah, Written by Hilary Leila Krieger, Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, who makes the point that the holiday is "...both overexposed and misunderstood." Christmas decoration/observance is prominent and the assumption in our place. Residents assume everyone must be a participatant in one of two holidays. Not us.
Of course I realize that the article only clarified what Hanukkah is about. Well-meaning people who wish us a "Happy something" are unaware that we manage without at this time of year. According to the Pew Forum,
Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, people like myself were common: we identified as culturally Jewish and did nothing of a religious nature. In the mid-1950s, I returned to St. Louis for the Christmas holidays and was told by my amused parents that some Jewish families were putting up Christmas trees they called "Hanukkah" bushes. Many my age recall having a wonderful time singing carols, exchanging presents for Christmas with our friends. It was a simpler time, not necessarily better in all ways, but less complex.
With our own children, we brought in a tree, decorated, and focused on the New Year as a way to rationalize some celebration while their friends were doing their more religious thing. "Attempted" is the operative word because the "tradition" did not become as strong as it might if commerce had caught up with us. Cannot have a holiday in America without department store and media recognition.
Each of our children has figured out his/her own low-key way. Eli and her brother now attend mostly Jewish schools; their sister Zoe continues in public. Holidays for them are a mix in the way America can be most in synch with our larger values. We were grateful this Saturday night to be where we were, feeling almost religiously blessed for the safety of our families.