Saturday, December 23, 2006

Favorite Time of Year, Birthdays, and Memories

I trust a whole lot of you have seen this postcard.

Truth be told, I love the lights, the sparkling beauty that appears during this season. I love the fairytale stories, the make-believe, the magic that sprinkles all the downtown store windows, the whole shopping district. I love colors and neon shades of sparkling beautiful lights. I love it all.

But this is hardly my favorite time of year. (Or if it is, it's not because of the lights. It's because of the snow, the skating, and best of all, my birthday.)

The PostSecret blog is bereft of Chanukah postcards. That's slightly sad.

What's more sad, I think, is the picture this sender chose. Not only do we have a Christmas tree in all its glory, but we also have cherubim- suggesting, although I doubt the sender meant this, that it's not the lights s/he likes, but the holiday in all its religious symbolic meaning.

R' Soloveitchik was very right to differentiate emotional highs from religious halakhic obligations. He wrote that the American Jew is very involved with ceremony and emotions. Ceremony in that it's the snowy-white tablecloth that makes Shabbos special, not its intrinsic holiness. And emotions that make religion matter- which means that without those emotions, one can dismiss the laws or customs that one does not like.

It is not our accoutrements or trappings that make us beautiful, that make our religion special, or lend us more meaning than other religions. A priest is still a priest without his vestments; a man is still a man if he is dressed in rags. The Sabbath is still the Sabbath whether we eat from a lavish board and drink from silver goblets, or sit upon the bare dirt and clutch our knees to stave off the cold.

We believe in beauty allied to religion, of course. We must decorate the sukkah and make it beautiful. Our tabernacle, our Mishkan, our Bais Hamikdash, our Kohen Gadol, the High Priest- they are all garbed in silks and satins, golds and silvers, rich clothes, beautiful garments. We believe in emotions allied to mitzvot. We are to serve God with joy and love, with all that is in our hearts.

But we do not stop serving because we do not feel.

And we do not underestimate the value of God or his followers simply because his House or their garments are destroyed.

Therefore, though I like the lights of Christmas- I love them, even; I enjoy looking at them and smiling up at the trees and watching the shoppers go about their weary, resigned days, looking for those special gifts- I do not confuse them with intrinsic meaning. They are beautiful, they twinkle, they sparkle, I enjoy them...but they are not enough to make this my favorite time of year. At least, not in the most meaningful way I know.

Now as for my birthday...that's another matter.

(Speaking of my birthday, I find that I have received most of the things I wished for last year. I got to go to Wicked, received an iPod, found quite a lot of Calvin and Hobbes comics online, received some nice cards, saw Carmen, saw The Phantom of the Opera, received lots of books. I no longer want skirts from that site. *smile* Family and friends of mine, you are amazing.)

On another note, now that it's almost my birthday once again- some of my best memories of this year:

1. The Teeny Blog Awards, way back when. I was so touched by this.
2. The Second Shabbos at Stern
3. North Shore Country Day! All you people rock. Sending me care packages and letters and postcards and Halloween candy rocks, too.
4. All the people for whom my anonymity has been shot. (Gosh, there's a lot of you.) I'm still amazed that you people are out here and read what I write.
5. All the kind words I've received from people I don't even know.
6. The zany craziness that is New York and the very strange people who live here. (Very, very strange.) Oh, the experiences I have had! (And you don't know the half of them.)
7. Lots of school-related things. Not even the people, though they're definitely part of it, but all the fun opportunities I have- Medical Ethics conferences, Rabbi Slifkin speeches, the Morg, Carmen, Fencing, Newspaper
8. The movies I have seen... (Fight Club, The Mask of Zorro, Pride and Prejudice- BBC version, and so many more) and the books I have read (GRRM and Robin Hobb being at the top)

And all the wonderful things that are to come!

And now I have to go study Navi. (And yes, I was studying before. Really. I was.)


Anonymous said...

The Morg?

I don't have much to comment about, but...


Chana said...

Morgan Library & Museum.

Had I the time, I could argue the niceties of overexcitement with regard to commenting abilities...

Of course, as I am studying Navi now, and you are supposed to be reading...

Charlie Hall said...

Happy Birthday!

I can't believe that any Jew, orthodox or not, would send a card that contained a Christmas tree.
But even worse are the Jews who boast of having them in their own homes. Two recent examples:

Dr. Laura is having a Christmas tree in her home, and inviting listeners to send an ornament!

And Cindy Chupack wrote about her family getting a tree:

The Maccabees risked their lives so that we would not adopt Gentile customs. I have no problem with Christians celebrating Christmas. I have a problem with Jews not realizing that it is not for us.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the Morgan Library. I thought you were referring to the Morgenstern dormitory...

I actually passed up a trip to the Morgan Library, but that was because I had an opportunity to get a free ticket into MoMA at the same time.

*returns to book*

Anonymous said...

Many Happy Holidays to you too Olivia, it's good to speak to you again after so long.
Your blog is still a fantastic read!

Mordy said...

I really wish I could love and enjoy Christmas trees. I wish I could divorce them from all the negative associations I have. Because whenever I'm walking with someone who says: "The lights are so beautiful," I know that they're beautiful. How could they not be? I'm not dead inside, I know that beauty exists. But I can't see it. Instead I keep seeing all the negative connotations. So if Ms. PostSecret writer loves Christmas trees, more power to her. (For some reason, I assume it's a female.) I'm not sure why it's her favorite part of the year, but that's why I love PostSecret. None of the stories are complete. There's so much sadness and happiness and missing story to fill in for yourself. (After reading this, I dug up my blogpost from when I first discovered PostSecret... April 2005. I was such a little emo kid then.

Anonymous said...

Any specific plans to celebrate your 18th birthday?

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Chana - A wonderful and happy birthday to you!

May this year be even better than last.

Chana said...

Charlie Hall,

Thanks for the kind wishes!


No plans as of yet. Why? Have any suggestions for me?


You have to read my story!


Read the entry. Hey, it's okay to be emo. And crying's all good, too.


So nice of you.

Anonymous said...

. A PERFECT BIRTDAY is when lots of food is cooked and
all family and close friends are invited. The birthday person wears a fancy outfit, eats, interacts,opens lots of gifts and then cuts their cake.

Chana said...

Last anonymous,

You're not my brother, by any chance, right?

That does sound like a perfect birthday. :)