Friday, December 09, 2005

A Lonely (1/16th) Jew…

I originally wrote this in December 2002 for an emailed version of S&T. In light of the controversy over pasting “Merry Christmas” everywhere, I thought this seemed appropriate to dust it off and post it online. Enjoy.

As many of you know, or don’t know, I’m 1/16th Jewish. That’s right, my great-great-grandfather was one of the founding Jewish families of Santa Clara County. However, he eventually married a Catholic and because of the sway of the Catholic Church, we have been Catholic ever since (who said the inquisition was over?).

My sister and I decided to get in touch with our heritage and celebrate the glorious Festival of Lights by lighting a Menorah. Being raised as Catholics, neither of us had any practical experience with this holiday. I had researched the prayers (pretty easy, thanks to the internet) and when to light the candles (at sundown), but we didn’t have any candles. On December 1st, the first day of Hanukah (also spelled Hanukkah and Chanukah—for what reason I still don’t know) I went to the store to buy some Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) candles.

I walked into the first store and found the “Holiday Section” of the store. I searched through all the “Holiday” items (note, I did not write Christmas, the area was noted as “holiday,” thus, making one think they are talking about more than just Christmas). Unfortunately, there were no Hanukah candles to be found amongst the “holiday” selections. Alas, there were no Hanukkah or Chanukah candles either. In fact, there was nothing even remotely associated with Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah). I do know that Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) is indeed a holiday, so I was a bit taken aback, considering I could only see one holiday being pushed.

I did manage to check out their candle section, just in case they might have stocked the area with the various types of Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) candles that should be available, but the only thing that came close were birthday candles… not exactly appropriate for the Festival of Lights. Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) candles are supposed to burn for several hours, unlike birthday candles which are designed to burn for about four minutes: the time it takes you to walk from where they are lit to where the birthday boy/girl waits to blow them out (generally about 10 feet). Using birthday candles is not exactly the best idea, since you use the first candle to light each day’s candle and by the time you are finished lighting the eighth day, your fingers are burned and your candles are pretty much melted.

I decided not to bother the staff, as they were busy with all the early Christmas shoppers and didn’t seem to have any time for a lonely Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) candle buyer.

The next store had all of their decorations up, and I started to peruse the 12 aisles of “Holiday Decorations,” while Christmas Carols blasted over the Musak. The only thing I could find that had anything to do with Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) was a “L’il Fingers Protector,” to help kids light the menorah without burning their l’il digits (probably from using birthday candles). It was in the shape of a menorah, but ended up being the only Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) item in the entire store. What other “holiday” celebrates with stockings, Christmas trees, wreaths, Santa Claus, candy canes, and manger scenes? It sure as fuck ain’t Ramadan…

I asked the at the kid at the counter if they had any Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) candles… to which you would have thought I’d asked: “Hey buddy, what’s the square root of infinity?” I worried his brain would burst. He asked his manager who gave me a similar look and asked, “Hanukah… candles?” as if this were a new concept and the Jewish people had not been doing this every year for over 3,000 years. After scratching her head (and hopefully contemplating a new hair style as well as a good dandruff shampoo), she shrugged and suggested I use birthday candles, “Because,” she smiled, “after all, it is all about a birthday, now isn’t it?”

I gave her a look of such shock and confusion she looked at me and said, “You guys celebrate birthdays, don’t you?”

I smiled and replied that yes, indeed the Jewish people did celebrate birthdays, but the one distinct difference between Judaism and Christianity was the fact that we do NOT celebrate the birth of Christ. I should have only been 1/16th pissed off, but I was beginning to think that this was a conspiracy against Zionism and was a full 3/4th pissed off.

I went to the next store and found that the great Christmas decorating beast had reared it’s ugly head and in doing so had vomited every possible combination of tasteless and annoying Christmas decoration upon every stationary item in the store. Standing in front of the 12 different manger scenes (one included Santa coming down the chimney of the manger to put presents under Mary & Joseph’s tree!) I decided to cut my losses and leave immediately.

Walking into Walgreens, I had some hope. At the entrance was a “Holiday Greeting Card Station” and amid the 800 or so different Christmas card sets, sat two sets of Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) cards! My people have found the Promised Land! Which was a good thing, since Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) starts at Sundown and it was 4:30pm.

However, after quickly walking through the store, I realized why my people had walked the desert for 40 years: they weren’t lost, they were trying to find freaking Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) decorations!

In desperation, I walked to the front and asked about Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) candles. Well, you’d have thought they had never heard of Jews before! Was this a conspiracy? Were my people being systematically wiped out by the Christians… again? When the manager walked up, she said (I shit you not): “Why do you need candles for Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah)?”

“I believe it’s called the “Festival of Lights. ‘Lights’ is pretty much key to the whole ‘Festival’ aspect of the holiday. No lights, no festival.”

“Oh.” She replied, staring at a cute little manger snow globe with baby Jesus holding a candy cane. “We have a large light section…”

“You don’t even know what a menorah is, do you?”

At this point, I was pretty enraged and she had that look on her face like she was trying to see where security was. She suddenly smiled that big, fake, salesperson smile that says “fuck you, asshole. I’m going to do my best to just get you the hell out of here” and said, “What about birthday candles? After all…”

Realizing that I had lost, I bought a bunch of birthday candles. As I left the store, both the idiot behind the register and the manager wished me a “very Merry Christmas.”

I’ve only been a practicing 1/16th Jew for two hours, but I already am pretty pissed off with the Christians. For those of you celebrating Kwanza next month, I have two pieces of advice: shop early and stock up on birthday candles.

Merry Christmas…

Since the writing of this article a number of Jewish and non-Jewish friends informed me of a number of wonderful locations which sell Hanukah (Hanukkah/Chanukah) candles, and now I'm fully stocked for the next 236 Hanukahs (Hanukkahs/Chanukahs).


Miladysa said...

Great post Chris - I love it when you write something lengthy!

Would you be surprised that I had never heard of Hanukah/Chanukah until this week? You would have to venture into the nearest city here to find your candles.

coolbuddha said...

A great post indeed. Nicely written. I hate Christmas and am trying to decided whether to convert to Judaism or become a Jehova's Witness. Tough one.

Bhakti said...

Funny post, Chris; Beautifully written, too. I'd love to read more of your 'essay' style stories.