Last weekend, Chris and I took our kids to a park called Dallas Heritage Village, a city park featuring a collection of historic Victorian-era buildings and living-history storytellers. It’s a great place any time, and in December, it’s is open late with bonfires and candles everywhere, and people dressed up in Victorian costumes singing Christmas carols. It’s an easy way to get into the Christmas spirit. Or, alternately, the Hanukkah spirit, because one of the great things about Dallas Heritage Village is that it one of the houses belonged to a Jewish family, and their religious observance is part of the living history of the building. I was explaining to my kid (the talkative one) about how the house we were in had belonged to a Jewish family.
“How can you tell?” she challenged me.
“Well, there is a Passover plate and a menorah over there on that cabinet. Those items are part of Jewish religious life, so a family that had them would be Jewish.”
“Well, we have a menorah and we’re not Jewish.”
We have a menorah because when we first moved to Dallas, all my friends were either from my church or my kids’ Christian school, and one December a few years ago, I was sad because it was Hanukkah and no one had invited us over to eat latkes and light candles. Dreadfully homesick for the diversity of the northeastern United States, horribly missing my friends, I bought a menorah and started celebrating Hanukkah with my family. We don’t make a big deal of it, but now every year we light the menorah and I read the story out loud to my kids, and I tell them that the Jews are God’s chosen people and He loves them, and I use the holiday to brainwash them just a little bit to make sure that they never, ever evangelize or proselytize Jews. I know it’s a little but unusual for Christians to celebrate Hanukkah, and I’m sure there are plenty of religious Jews who would be mightily offended to hear about our secular celebration of a Jewish holiday, just as there are plenty of religious Christians who think we’re nuts, but it’s part of our family’s tradition and we love it.
This year was different. This year, I did not stick a match on center candle of the menorah with a gnawing pit in my stomach, missing my friends. This year, the woman who was my best friend when I was thirteen, at whose bat mitzvah I lit a candle, whose parents were the first people to show me what it meant to them to be Jewish, is visiting me over Hanukkah. I grinned at her as I set up my menorah, and lit it.
“Check me out with the menorah,” I said. “I r teh awesomzorz.”
“Brat,” she said. “Show off.”
I’m going to wake my friend up at the crack of dawn to go with me to get freshly-made jelly doughnuts from the Korean couple who own the doughnut shop around the corner from my house.
Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. And please pass the doughnuts.