The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.
More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no direct connection to the modern movement known as Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Seleucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.
According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.
Every year, on the first night of Chanukkah, I share this specific performance of this song, “Light One Candle,” by Peter, Paul & Mary. It is not only a reminder of the season, but also of our interconnectedness.
I saw this come across on several other blogs and thought it would be fun to play. Here goes!
Use one noise to describe how excited you are for Christmas.
Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?
When I was growing up, the tradition for many years was to open gifts on Christmas Eve, with one gift from Santa Claus on Christmas morning. When I was around 12, this changed to opening all gifts on Christmas morning. Nowadays, my husband and I tend to give practical gifts or experiences (like theatre tickets) to each other, so there are no rules. Sometimes the practical gifts are needed before Christmas.
What holiday traditions are you looking forward to most this year?
We try to go see Christmas lights in one of the fancier neighborhoods each year, or to attend a Christmas theatrical. This year, my health has been such that we skipped the theatrical we regularly attend because I was under the weather. Our local ballet company’s “Nutcracker” is still on the agenda.
Is your Christmas tree real or fake?
This year, we decided not to put up a tree. We have two adolescent cats, brought in from the streets, who are very active … and who used to climb trees outside. I think you know why we didn’t put one up this year. 🙂
What is your favorite Christmas film?
For a full-length film, “A Christmas Story.” For a TV program, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”
Where do you usually spend your holiday?
What is your favorite Christmas song?
What is your all-time favorite holiday food/sweet treat?
Mincemeat pie. I am the only one in my family (either growing up or now) who likes it, and so it seldom appears on the menu.
Be honest: do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?
What is your favorite thing about Christmas?
The music, whether secular or religious.
When do you start getting excited for Christmas?
Around Thanksgiving. I drag out my music and start playing it in the car long before other people are interested in listening to it.
What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
A chemistry set and a microscope, the same year. My dad belonged to the carpenter’s union when I was a child in Oregon. Wet weather meant that carpenters were often out of work around the holidays, so the union put on a huge party every year. Each child could choose a gift from a vast array on the table.
I planned to be a veterinarian when I grew up, so there were two things I had asked for: a microscope, and a chemistry set. When I saw the chemistry set on the stage that year, I proudly selected it. Unbeknownst to me, my folks had purchased me a good quality, functional microscope as well.
I think I was in the sixth grade.
Prior to that, the award would have gone to my precious Thunderbolt, my bouncy horse. I think I was four years old.
What is the worst present you’ve ever received?
My mother sent me the ugliest ski sweater in the known universe about 20 years ago. Before I even describe it, I need to tell you that I don’t ski. The sweater was bright turquoise at the bottom and ivory at the yoke, with purple snowflakes right across the bosom, and purple fringe around the base of the turtleneck. My mother doesn’t do gag gifts; she apparently thought I would love this very heavy sweater (I live in California).
I opened the box and looked at the sweater in absolute horror. I told my husband, “Well, it certainly looks warm.” I never even tried it on. I put it in a drawer, and subsequently donated it to charity.
It was years before I ‘fessed up to my mother what I had done with her holiday gift … which she didn’t even remember sending me, but agreed through gales of hysterical laughter that the sweater sounded awful and no, she didn’t know what she was thinking at the time.
As a kid, did a sibling ever receive a present that you wished was for you?
My brother got a toy called “Speak & Spell” one year. He was entirely disinterested in it, so I got to play with it a lot.
What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?
I would love to spend the holidays in either Paris or New Orleans.
Most memorable Holiday moment?
At my age, it’s hard to pick just one. I guess it would be the times I sang, either solo or with a chorus, to bring holiday music to others … and there have been several of those.
Do you make New Years resolutions? Do you stick to them?
I don’t make them anymore, because they always fall apart.
What makes the holidays special for you?
I think that people are just a little more kind to one another.
What’s the best part about Christmas for you?
You know, that’s an interesting question. We’re working on making new traditions in our home that are meaningful to us, instead of just doing the same old things … some of which stopped being fun a long time ago. I think that opportunity for renewal is great.
You have been granted one Christmas wish…what will it be?
For everyone to have a home, good health, and enough to eat.
In keeping with yesterday’s post about John Lennon, it seemed appropriate to share this sample from my music business memoir, Music, Mayhem & Bad Decisions, with you today. At the end, in keeping with Blogmas, I’ll share a song by the late Billy Rancher, “Happy Santa Claus.”
My first exposure to the Portland music scene came when I did something completely out of character for me. It was December 1980, and I skipped school to go downtown for a John Lennon memorial in the aftermath of his murder. A local band called The Malchicks was playing and, honest to God, I thought the lead singer was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. His name was Billy Rancher, and I am sure that my parents grew mightily sick of hearing about him. Of course, I was in huge trouble for ditching school, but I didn’t care. I was a senior with very good grades, knew I would graduate — and had just gotten a tiny taste of the world I hoped to inhabit.
At about the same time, along came something new: MTV. (Yep, I’m old enough to remember when MTV played music videos and nothing else.) Suddenly, I was hearing a whole different sound. Consider that the most popular bands among my classmates were Van Halen and Blue Oyster Cult. Now, suddenly I was listening to The Yachts, Bram Tchaikovsky, Human League. It was like a whole new world opened up to me.
As I said, I went to a semi-rural high school. We lived across the street from a dairy farm. I don’t remember more than a handful of people of color among my classmates — including the exchange students from places like Japan and Iran. Being “different” was strongly discouraged, to say the least.
There was this tiny enclave of people, primarily in speech/debate and/or theatre, and we embraced this new music. Devo and The B-52s were requested at school dances and we would pogo merrily away. We were the “punk” crowd, according to the Van Halen fans. It must be said that this does not mean we were the proverbial “cool kids.” Quite the opposite, in fact. However, we didn’t let that stop us.
It was with tremendous delight that I graduated and began looking for work. I’d done the part-time food service gig, like every other high schooler at the time, but now I needed something that would buy my freedom. My folks had bought a house, so there was no question of attending college; they couldn’t afford to send me, and they made too much for me to get financial aid. I would eventually attend part-time on my own, majoring first in journalism and later in forensic anthropology.
In the mean while, I listened to music, read music and fashion magazines, dreamed of visiting London, and wrote more lousy fan fiction. Laurence Juber, my favorite guitarist, was a big star in those stories. He’s brilliantly talented, and one heck of a nice man. I’ve had occasion to meet him in person, and have seen him perform live several times.
LJ, please consider this my apology for those stories.
I had a couple of short-term office jobs that allowed me to put aside more money, buy clothes and attend concerts.
One of those shows was at a huge venue called Lung Fung’s Dragon Room. The Dragon Room was this cavernous dance hall attached to a moderately good Chinese restaurant. The owner booked live music at least a couple of nights a week, often with an early “all age” show. This suited both my age and my “need to be up early for work” schedule.
The Dragon Room played host to what they called a Battle of the Bands, with local favorites Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods (that same Billy Rancher …) and a band from Seattle called The Cowboys.
Photo by Jack Mitchell, via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed for non-commercial use.
There are certain moments in our lives that stand out keenly in our memories. For me, one of those was learning that John Lennon had been murdered. I was a high school senior, performing in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I had a quick-change to do in the wings, because I was not only a villager but also Grandma Tzeitel. I was in the middle of it when my best friend came in from the wings; she had ushered for the show and had gone home because it was snowing … but turned around when she heard the news on the radio. She had to tell me; we were both life-long fans of the Beatles. I was putting on the gold lace overskirt, shawl, and cap that turned me into the grandmother in Tevye’s dream sequence, and I remember the…