Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Goodbye Christmas - Hello Passover

For almost 20 years Christmas has been the dominant holiday for us.  No, we don’t celebrate Christmas being Jewish and all. And we never debated with our children whether Santa Claus exists or not.  The time around December 25th is referred to as the “Holidays” in the US - out of respect to other holidays.  But in fact Christmas is everywhere – the colors, the lights, the songs and the sales at Macy’s – one of the largest department stores.
Passover 'Seder Plate'

In the beginning it felt a bit strange. But after a few years you get used to it - and when ‘Jingle Bells’ plays on the radio you hum along. You start wishing for a “White Christmas” and plan to spend a few days on the snowy slopes of Lake Tahoe. Christmas becomes part of your life too.

Hanukkah, which often takes place near Christmas, becomes a major holiday. While Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur become minor ones – celebrated among few friends and family. There are no special Macy’s sales on Yom Kippur after all. Your non-Jewish friends wish you a happy Hanukkah, puzzled by the ever-shifting lunar calendar. Their kids envy yours having heard that Jewish kids get a present on each of the eight Hanukkah days (they don’t!). Your holiday schedule adjusts over time to the “Macy’s way”, driven by major sales events.

And here we are in Israel. It’s Passover and the whole country revolves around it. The national diet changes and everybody (well almost everybody) switches from bread to Matzah. Appointments, project schedules, post office hours, and bank services – are either “before” or “after” the holiday (mostly “after”). It seems as if the whole world is pausing to celebrate Exodus.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Passover – it is the celebration of Jewish people freed by God and Moses from 400yrs of slavery under the Egyptian Pharaohs. The exit (or exodus) from Egypt marks the formation of the Jewish nation. The exodus story is retold through reading an ancient script called the ‘Haggadah’. The holiday dinner (called ‘Seder’) allows each person to celebrate the miracle of Exodus and pass the tradition to the next generation. A climax of the Seder is when the young children recite the 4 questions listed in the Haggadah and the adults recite the answers, which summarize the miracle of Passover.

Passover also presents three unwritten questions to every Israeli family –Who are you going to celebrate Passover with; Where will the Seder (dinner) take place and What’s on the menu. How you answer these Who/Where/What questions has a direct impact on your extended family “holiday happiness”. In the US, we established a small forum of Israeli families that celebrated the holidays together year after year. Each family took its turn to host a major holiday dinner. That took care of the ‘Who’ and ‘Where’. The only thing left to debate each year was the ‘What’ on the menu… Now that we are in Israel,  we will hopefully find new answers to these critical Who/Where/What questions.

So will I miss Christmas? I am sure I will. You can’t just strike out 20yrs of “tradition”.  But I am also delighted with my "newly found" Passover. You can’t just strike out 3000yrs of tradition either.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great story and a different perspective. Especially the last line.

    As an American Jew, I have only known life as you so ably described it. I don't remember ever "believing in" Santa Claus but my brothers and I were taught to be respectful of the traditions and certainly never to challenge other kids' beliefs about the fat guy in the red suit. Besides, there was something in it for us. Every year, the whole town would gather at the community center that was part of the firehouse and there was Santa! Though Santa looked a lot like Mr. Powers one year, Mr. Nash the next year.

    One by one, each kid would come up and talk to Santa and we would each get a present (yes, a different present for -every- kid in town (small town)) and a big mesh stocking full of candy.

    For that much candy, believing in Santa was a small price. Hell, for candy I would say I believed in a giant bunny delivering colored eggs.

    We also participated in Christmas celebrations at school (this was before it became politically incorrect to celebrate what everyone knows we are celebrating). At home, we celebrated Chanukah. (And yes, we got eight presents. Seven small ones and one nice one.)

    Thanks for the memories, Baruch.