With Chanukah coming early this year, more than one person has prompted me with, “Can you believe it? Are you ready for the holiday?” Meanwhile, on the news, we’re being bombarded with concerns about supply chain management. The message from stores is, “Shop early! We don’t have everything in stock and don’t know when we’re getting more!”
I might be the only person saying, in advance of what some people see as a huge gift-giving season: “No worries! It’s all fine.” Crazy, right? How could a person with kids think this?
Well, last year, when things seemed stressful, I was sewing endless numbers of flannel pajama bottoms for my twins for Chanukah. They got a lot of hand-sewn and hand-knitted gifts because I was so concerned that we might not have “enough.” Also, they were remote schooling, and I stayed up late working because I wanted them to know that they would lack nothing, we cared about them and wanted them to feel loved despite the major disruptions in their lives.
For years, I’ve advocated for buying local, making things from scratch or finding second-hand stuff close to home. If anything, I’ve appreciated that the pandemic made other people clean up and sell things they didn’t need. My kids don’t mind getting second-hand Playmobil. After all, someone else’s tidying campaign meant more toys for them!
For me, on a small scale, it means my kids get something they wanted and we don’t have to feel guilty about buying all this plastic. We’re just buying and reusing someone else’s plastic purchase. That’s better, right?
Some of our presents have always been socks or underwear, and this year will be no different. I foresee some intangible gifts, too, like my parents’ kind choice to buy us a family membership to the zoo. We’ll definitely have our night or two of tzedakah (charity) giving to the food bank or the Humane Society. We’ll have our doughnuts and latkes.
So, what’s Jewish about all this? Well, all of it. First, my family celebrates Chanukah, full stop. And, in a year with plenty of antisemitism, it seems great to proudly celebrate a holiday that commemorates Jewish victories and religious freedom.
Second, our traditions definitely suggest that the details matter – study any Torah portion and its commentaries, a page of Talmud, or just attend any Jewish organization’s board meeting. Getting the small choices around gift giving or festive oily foods right matters in our worldview. Hillel and Shammai debated which way to light the menorah or chanukiyah, but nobody said, “It doesn’t matter! Don’t bother! It’s all good!” What we do, how we act and how we choose to observe rituals with our families – it matters.
Third, in a time when so many of us have lost friends or family to COVID, or when some of us are struggling with our health, it’s so great to have a happy holiday ahead. I’ve always thought that the wish to gather with family and friends “only at simchas” (celebrations) seemed strange, because we need our loved ones when times are hard, too. Yet, we’ve all had plenty of hard times since March 2020. It’s OK to hope to be celebratory. I get the “only simchas” thing now.
The return to “normal” has been touted by some as very important. In my household, with kids who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated yet, we’re not back to normal. However, the whole supply chain breakdown is another reminder that normal wasn’t really that great. Our past acquisition system took advantage of many low-wage workers, wasted tons of energy moving goods across the world, and filled up our lives with more and more stuff. It might be a time to look closer to home for presents, make things for others, and stop expecting that buying this year’s “it” toy will make all the difference. We could all do with a little more handmade, local, small business support. Now’s the time for that.
It’s true that the supply chain disruption and the ongoing pandemic concerns make some things really difficult. If you’ve had an essential appliance break down, it might be months before you can get a replacement part. If you’re waiting for surgery and are in pain due to the current burdens on our healthcare system, you have all my sympathies. Worse still, if you’ve lost a family member, your job, business or your health, these are seriously hard things. These are the things that matter.
I don’t know if or when normal will return. If anything, studying more Jewish texts at this time has reminded me that we’re not alone in facing adversity. Throughout thousands of years, Jews have struggled with disease, forced immigration, difficulties in employment, poverty and death. It might be more useful to ask when we didn’t face big disruptions to “normal.” Our tradition has a lot to teach us about sticking to our ritual routines, observing holidays and caring for others in good and in hard times.
I can’t fix politics, or war or the supply chain anxieties. I miss my U.S. family and being able to travel to see them safely, without potential COVID exposure. However, my household has gotten much better at prioritizing small things that count. Now, we’re in a place where a long walk on Shabbat is a pleasure, playing outside is a gift, and new toys, tasty foods or fun surprises can be blessings for which we’re grateful. Chatting with a neighbour or seeing a woodpecker – these things can now make a day a special one. These daily details and rituals matter more than any single 2021 acquisition.
Wishing you a happy Chanukah, full of “only good” details that count: oily treats, enjoyable Jewish traditions, a meaningful donation or two and gifts that makes a difference close to home.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.