Growing up in America, Chanukah (the Jewish holiday of lights) and Christmas (the cultural holiday of Capitalism) walked hand-in-hand. My non-Jewish friends envied me because I had eight days in which to receive gifts, as opposed to a one-time bonanza under the tree. I envied my non-Jewish friends because I loved the carols, and the spirit of giving, even if it only occurred one day a year.
Especially after living in New York City, the Christmas season has been indelibly imprinted upon my brain. The awe inspiring raising of the tree at Rockefeller Center, and skating beneath its lights on the Rockefeller Center rink. The artistic arrangement of the windows at Macy's, all white and sparkling. The Nutcracker ballet live and sitting in the second row with my grandparents, and the numerous holiday programming on television: Frosty the Snowman, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the original Grinch cartoon, and who can forget the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life. " (Broadcasted 24 hours a day for several weeks, until you want to kill yourself.)
Usually known for their aggressive behaviour, New Yorkers become more kind and gentle, smiling and wishing each other a "Happy Holiday," while they sprint to work or shop for presents. Of course as soon as the drunken orgy takes place in Times Square on New Year's eve, all that generosity of spirit disappears faster than you can say "Ho ho ho."
I moved to Jerusalem, Israel in 1997, and there are essentially three things that I miss about the United States: one, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my second home since childhood; two, fall foliage; and three, a true holiday spirit in December. Chanukah, unlike for example other Jewish holidays of Pesach or Succot, passes by without too much notice; most adults I know work at least part of the time if not overtime, rather than taking vacation with their family. Other than the appearance of jelly doughnuts and bad children's musicals, you would be hard pressed to find the true meaning of the Festival of Lights: a feeling of joy, family and salvation from an historical enemy of the Jews.
Several years ago, I saw the Nutcracker Ballet performed in Jerusalem. Cow-towing to the various religions, the stage in the first act lacked both a Christmas tree and a Menorah, and instead had an odd pile of presents in the corner. The music was pre-recorded. Towards the end of the second act, the Sugar Plum Fairy slipped and sprained her ankle during her solo, because the stage hand had not properly swept up the fake snow.
Two years ago, some friends and I went to the Jerusalem Theatre, for Handel's Messiah. My friend's husband slept through the first part, had an allergic attack (to culture?) in the second part and left with his wife, while I stayed until the end. The tonal quality of the voices were just OK, both the men and women had trouble hitting the highest and lowest notes.
Last year I attended a Christmas carol concert at the YMCA - I knew all the words - and many of my Jewish friends attend Midnight Mass, though they don't participate in the pure ritual. One of my Chiropractic patients reported to me that last year, 3/4 of the audience at the church were Jewish, and mostly Anglo-Saxon.
This year, the firebug in me made the conscious decision to end work earlier than usual, so that I could light the Menorah on time, and sit and enjoy the experience of family. The inner child in me will seek out another concert and maybe even buy myself a present or two.