Intersections – The Lights
By Nicki Salcedo
There is a small blue dreidel in my makeup bag. It belongs to my son. I found it last week when I got to my hotel in Minneapolis. An outside observer might think it strange. I’m more likely to have a dreidel in my purse than mascara. It is true. Such is life.
Years ago, my son wanted to know why we didn’t celebrate Hanukkah. He was holding the same blue dreidel, a gift from a classmate at school. I could have said that our family is not Jewish. I could have said something about Jesus or Christmas. Instead, I asked him if he wanted to celebrate Hanukkah. He did.
I’ve always wanted to celebrate the miracle of the Maccabees, but I wasn’t sure what to do.
Why don’t we celebrate Hanukkah? I wondered as well. I love my faith. I love learning about and participating in other people’s faith. Kids ask questions that adults are afraid to ask. They are the first ones to try to find similarities. They are the first ones to put differences aside. And still I hesitated.
I wanted to ask my Jewish friends about Hanukkah, but I didn’t want to be that person asking annoying questions.
It is possible that my Jewish friends feel the same way about Hanukkah as I do about my hair. When you are a black woman in a white world, your hair is a mystery. People ask me questions all the time. It is yours? Do you wash it? Can you swim? Can I touch it? Followed by comments like: It’s so soft. And bouncy. And springy. Suddenly I’m feeling like Winnie the Pooh’s friend Tigger.
I don’t want to subject my Jewish friends to the same inane questions about Hanukkah. My preference is to spell it Chanukah, but instead I leave off the “C” and add another “K.” I know that the oil lasted eight days. I understand that Hanukkah isn’t the high holy holiday or even in the top three. I know just enough to get me into trouble.
I had a new question about Hanukkah. At a non-religious specific holiday party, I cornered a Jewish friend and worked up the courage to ask a few questions.
“My son wants a menorah. Is that cool?”
I didn’t want to do anything that would devalue the sacred or disrespect tradition. None of the Hanukkah FAQs mentioned Gentiles who wanted to have a menorah.
“Of course you can get your son a menorah.” she said.
“At the menorah store?” I asked.
There is a store for menorahs, right?
“A menorah bought at Target will do.”
I love Target. My paycheck is deposited at that store regularly. Wait? There is no menorah store?
“Don’t we need to sing some songs?” I asked.
My friend looked at me like she was going to ask to touch my hair. I got it. We were good. My son could get a menorah, and it wouldn’t be weird.
Except I didn’t get a menorah. Curiosity is the first step in finding unity, but not the final step in creating understanding. I don’t want to do it wrong, so I’m waiting. Maybe someone can invite us to their Hanukkah celebration. I might wander by the menorah lighting in the square. Maybe it can become a part of my family traditions.
Strangely enough, going to the lighting of the big Christmas tree is not one of my traditions. Buying lots of gifts is not one of my Christmas traditions. In fact, I don’t like gift giving at all. I know, I’m weird. I don’t like hugs, beer, wine, or mascara. I love Christmas, but not Christmas gifts.
The year my father died, I bought no gifts. I went into the really big Kroger when it was still just the big Kroger, and I bought boxes of cereal for all my nieces and nephews and my kids. I warned them in advance so they wouldn’t be disappointed. Some of them were. Some of them enjoyed the fun of seeing what type of cereal I bought for them.
Some kids are Panda Puffs. Other kids are Lucky Charms. My son, who loves a dreidel, likes Raisin Bran with granola.
I don’t have the holiday thing figured out, but I love the season. Religious and cultural and silly. I will gladly call out “Happy Christmas!” to you and thank you if you respond with “Happy Hanukkah!” or “Happy holidays!” or “Festivus for the rest of us!”
These days I’m happy for any happiness. I’m still curious about the menorah. I don’t know how my son’s dreidel got in my makeup bag. I might not believe in Santa Claus, but I do believe in miracles. Eight days’ worth or just a single plastic toy.
There is a reason why we look at candles and a shining star and fireworks. We are always looking for hope and peace. We can find it in the lights.
Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.