The official holiday shopping season has begun. Our family celebrates Chanukah, also called The Feast of Lights. The first of the eight candles will be lit the evening of December 11. Oy!
Our youngest daughter won’t be home from college until the holiday is actually over – so I plan to send some gifts to her at school, and save the rest for when she’s eating some latkes at the dinner table. Son number one and his wife live in Washington – so I need to get their gifts in the mail. If I’d been smart, I’d have had them ready and wrapped when they were here for Thanksgiving. Son number two and his wife, and son number three, all live in the area – so we’ll probably see them for at least one of the eight nights of the holiday.
I can give you the standard spiel, which is that Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday, never intended to duplicate the breadth of Christmas. No trees, no garlands, no ornaments – at least not when I was growing up. Today, there are tons of decorations you can buy – but there’s a not-so-small voice that echoes in my mind that reminds me that I’m not supposed to go for the glitz (much as I love Christmas decorations) when celebrating the Feast of Lights. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt. Desecrated by the forces of Antiochus IV, when the Jews retook the temple there was only enough holy oil to fuel the eternal flame for one day…but the miracle is that the oil lasted eight days, enough time to consecrate more holy olive oil.
Traditionally we eat latkes – potatoes fried in oil. In Israel they eat sufganiyot, jam-filled fried donuts. We play dreidel – a game with a spinning top with four Hebrew letters, Nun, Gimel, Alef, Shin, symbolizing the sentence, “Nes Gadol Haya Sham" -- A great miracle happened there.” Actually in Israel, the final letter is changed to Pei , to read “Nes Gadol Haya Po," -- A great miracle happened here.”
I confess I get caught up in the commercial holiday spirit because I love picking out gifts for loved ones and seeing their delight. And while I could certainly give presents other times of the year – and do – there is something fantastically fun about enjoying the communal spirit of shopping and giving – both on a personal and charitable level at this time of year. I'm a wrapping paper connoisseur, insisting on sharp tight corners on the package, and choosing just the right bow, because the original Evelyn insisted a present always required a ribbon. Who knew?
So I try to strike the right balance between the religious components and commercialism. And there is, of course, the thrill of the hunt – finding the perfect present at just the right price. I’ve never shopped on Black Friday – except this year, when I carefully combined coupons and promotion codes, and stopped by several online stores. Throw in some free shipping and this is one happy shopper. Might I remind all that books, especially mystery books, are always a perfect, one-size-fits-all gift!
So as the weeks move along during this holiday season, whatever you are celebrating, I wish for you the joy of giving, the delight of seeing those you love savor your thoughtfulness, and the importance of remembering those less fortunate at this time.
We’ll talk more in the weeks ahead. Enjoy!
Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David