Monday, December 10, 2012


An Imaginary Conversation With My Potential Child When I Tell Her About Hanukkah

Cast of Characters
Me: Late thirties/early forties (what’s the rush?).
Daughter: Five years old. Looks like a cross between myself and Michael Fassbender, or possibly like myself and one of my guy friends (???!!!).

Early 2020s. My daughter and I are sitting in our Space Colony or apartment — who knows what the future will bring.


Me:  So then there was a temple that was destroyed. And it needed to be cleaned up, which people could do only by the light of a menorah. I’m not sure why they didn’t just open a window to get natural sunlight? Anyway, there was supposed to be enough oil for it to burn for only one day, but, and here’s where your mind will get blown — the oil lasted for about a week!

Daughter: That’s it? All my friends have Christmas, and we just have an oil-based holiday?

Me: [forced] An oil-based miracle.

Daughter:  I think we’re overusing the word miracle, Maman. [My fantasy future children will use French words on occasion when trying to prove a point.]

Me: But it’s a festival of lights! I know. FOMO was actually invented by your ancestors the day after Thanksgiving 1 A.D. 

Daughter: What do we do on Christmas Day, then?

Me: We fool ourselves into thinking we’re having fun spending the day with other cranky, depressed Jewish people at busy Chinese restaurants and movie theaters. We’ll watch Oscar contenders released on Christmas Day as a family, and they will always feature an uncomfortable amount of nudity.

Daughter:  Okay, help me get into this. What are the foods we eat on Hanukkah?

Me: Potato pancakes! Which we make in oil. See what I did there? And the children receive golden chocolate coins, since Jewish children love money so much.

Daughter: That feels a bit racist.

Me: Fair point.

Daughter: Who brings us presents? Do we have anything like Santa Claus?

Me: Nope. Just your Dad and me. But there will be eight presents! Though, in fairness, after the first night we’ll be phoning it in. School supplies can be presents too.

Daughter: Christmas is always December 25, so when is Hanukkah exactly?

Me: Great question! I have no idea. You’ll never know this either, and will Google it every year, then promptly forget.

Daughter: I love Christmas songs! Do we have a Hanukkah equivalent of "Silent Night" or "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"?

Me: Yes! As of now, we have two whole songs. One is by Adam Sandler about O.J. Simpson and marijuana, and the other is about a poor child who had to bake his own toys out of clay.

Daughter: Sorry for such a basic question, but what is the correct spelling of Hanukkah, anyway?

Me: [breaks down] Why are you asking me such difficult questions? After thousands of years, no one’s cared enough to put in a conference call or something to get on the same page for a standardized spelling. Put a C or two Ks, creative spelling is half the fun of our holiday season! Look, you’re old enough to hear what I heard when I was your age, there’s no way around it: I’m sorry, but we’re Jewish.

Daughter: But is there anything even worthwhile about being Jewish?

Me: One day you’ll understand this. [Silently hands over a copy of the “Palestinian Chicken” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Portnoy’s Complaint.] Listen, we may have the crappiest holiday since our other crappy holiday, Purim, but you have many reasons to be proud of being Jewish: We gave the world self-awareness, circumcision, and Mandy Patinkin. Now who wants to play dreidel?!

Epilogue: I play dreidel with my daughter for 10 seconds until we both realize that children aren’t as into spinning tops as they used to be. Then we take off on our Hoverboards.

Michelle Markowitz is a comedy writer and storyteller in New York. She co-hosts the comedic storytelling shows “Failing Our Twenties” and “Hookups & Hang-Ups,” and can be found online (usually talking about her love of Chipotle) @michmarkowitz and michellemarkowitz.com.

63 Comments / Post A Comment

Genghis Khat

You're not pushing the donut angle as hard as you should.


@Genghis Khat yeah i read this and was like ...but what about doughnuts?

also, re: purim -- this is a holiday when you are mandated to dress in costume and then get so drunk and rowdy that you cannot tell the difference between the hero and the villain of the story. there is NOTHING crappy about that.


@wearitcounts Yeah, I was going to say. If you think Purim is a crappy holiday, you've definitely missed the big picture here. Religiously-mandated drunkenness! Costumes! TRIANGLE-SHAPED COOKIES WITH FRUIT FILLING.




@wearitcounts go team hamentaschen!


I've been looking all over for this!@n


The "Palestinian Chicken" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Yes.


I will always be grateful for the existence of Judaism, since Purim gave Christopher Guest a reason to make For Your Consideration. "Is that my sweet Rachel's voice I heard? Or am I just goin' meshuga?"


I myself am not Jewish, though I have a daughter who is. She is currently seven months old, so I will print this out for future use.

We lit the menorah for her the other night. She cried. It was almost bedtime.


Haha this is great! And perhaps an appropriate place for this question: Jewish Pinners, how do you feel about non-Jews lighting a menorah? A Facebook friendquaintance of mine is doing it, quote "for spiritual reasons" which I didn't ask for clarification on, but to me it smacks of hipster-appropriation?


@iceberg @iceberg My girlfriend brought a menorah to my apartment (she's Jewish, I'm not) but didn't have any candles for it, and I was ready to go out and buy some right then and there so as not to miss a night of Hanukkah, but she was pretty blase about it. I think I'm more excited about it than she is because it's all so new to me.


@iceberg I am not putting myself forward as representative but I think it is hilariously stupid considering what the holiday is about, but, considering what the holiday is about, relatively inoffensive. I save all my semi-Jewish rage for Christians who celebrate Passover as they deserve it more.

That is assuming you mean (as I think you do) non-Jews who do that all on their own without any Jews around in their living space. Non-Jews like my mom who did her best to recreate half-assed holiday celebrations for her kids out of a vague sense of moral obligation to their dead Jewish dad I think get a pass.

non-Jews who want to experience the Hanukkah spirit just for fun would be better off frying things in oil and then eating them I think, but what do I know


@Emby but like, at least you have a Jewish person involved! You're sharing in HER tradition specifically bcause of her.

the roughest toughest frail

@iceberg One of my bosses just admitted that he does this with his family, because he "likes the tradition". I'm more Jewish-adjacent than anything, but he called the chanukiah a "candelabra," so I was mildly offended.


@iceberg mm, I'm sort of mildly not a fan. it feels appropriative. Like, this is my tradition, you have your own (or can make your own if you don't like the available ones), leave ours alone. Also, what "spiritual reasons" would those be? Is she, like, a big fan of the Hasmoneans? or of forced conversions?

(I don't think that's what @Emby is talking about though - that sounds more like "hey my lady has a cool tradition and I am excited to learn about/take part in it!" which is a very sweet attitude to take.)

Like @queenofbithynia, I reserve my actual indignation for Christians who celebrate Pesach and repurpose it as being All! About! Christ! NO NO NO a thousand times NO.

the roughest toughest frail

@stonefruit Yeah, Christians already have a Pesach celebration: it's called "Maundy Thursday" and it's no where near as great as Pesach proper.


@abetterfate I think it's weird. When I was a kid we did some fun Hanukkah things with our neighbours that had to do with the gelt. I think Purim might have been more fun though...


@iceberg I'm with stonefruit, that's not cool to me. Hanukkah isn't a big-deal holiday, but what spiritual reasons could she have to do it? Deep identification with the Maccabees?


@anachronistique Yeah, sign me up for not being a fan, either. The thing I think I dislike most is that a lot of non-Jews don't realize that Hanukkah is *not* an important Jewish holiday. At all. It just gets a lot of press because it falls near Christmas. It would be like a non-Christian deciding to celebrate... I don't know, the Assumption of Mary, or something, for "spiritual reasons."

If you're going to observe one of our holidays, at least pick an important and widely applicable one like Yom Kippur. And then you can kill two birds with one stone - appropriating it and repenting for that at the same time.


@SarahDances Bingo. It isn't a "spiritual" holiday, it was a minor occasion that got played up because it fell around Christmas time and that means more potential spending on presents. Maybe she thinks "lighting some candles" is spiritual. But then, calling oneself "spiritual" goes hand in hand with being the kind of person who thinks "lighting some candles" is "spiritual"...if that makes sense, and isn't terribly judgy/snarky. Nah. I stand behind the snark.


@stonefruit et al - Welll, I didn't ask what the "spiritual reasons" were, but none of his Jewish friends who commented seemed offended by it. I think there's a certain type of Christian who feels that Jewish traditions can also belong to them? Or perhaps just sort of partaking in other religions' traditions is a way to feel that you are an open-minded Christian who is cool with all the other religions? I don't know. But thanks for your insights, I really liked hearing everyone's thoughts on this.


Maybe I was an exceptional kid, but I really can't remember ever having anything like Christmas-envy. Who cares that Hanukkah kind of sucks? Its like the most minor of all the minor Jewish holidays (of which there are many!) and we have Passover and Purim, which are both the best. And don't forget the booze, Jews may not be that into presents, but they are into booze, which is definitely better than presents. Also its not like I've never been to a Christmas party or gotten Christmas presents, its just not something I do with my family or place any importance on. I really can not stress enough how much I love that I don't have to do anything for Christmas that I don't want to do or can't afford, I looooooove it.


@bnna Yessss I feel such a relief every Christmas season. Like, people who celebrate Christmas have to buy an insane amount of presents?? For like, everyone they know?? And also practically kill themselves decorating their house in the hopes of regaining the wonder they felt as a child? It sounds nice but also like a terrible amount of work. I'm perfectly happy getting like one gift and forgetting to light the candles after the first three nights. I'll take Purim instead, thanks.


@bnna I will also add that as a (probably very annoying) precocious child I think I loved every opportunity to explain how and why my family was different.


@bnna ALL OF THE THINGS YOU SAID x 1000000

Stacy H@twitter

@bnna Exactly. Also, my parents were not born in America, thus they didn't even know they were supposed to give Hanukah presents. And when I went to Jewish school and all my friends got presents and I kvetched, they told me it had only been 2 months since my birthday, and I hadn't finished the books I got as presents yet.
But now that I'm in the big world I am really glad that I don't have to make a big deal about all this gifting and instead give to secular charities and spend they day in pajamas.


@Stacy H@twitter are your parents from the former USSR and did they have a New Year Tree?
Were you told, at the age of seven, that you can't have one anymore because it turns out that all this time you were actually putting up a Christmas tree?
...did it take you, like, five more years to get over the disappointment?



I just learned about this from my Bus Commute Friend! She is from the former Soviet Union and also told me all about Father Frost. She said it's great because by the time she is decorating her apartment all the decorations are on sale.

But, I am truly sorry about your disappointment :(


@BucketsOfCool Along these lines, apparently leftover Santa- and Christmas-themed decorations make it to Israel just in time for Sukkot, and little Israeli kids decorate their sukkot with pictures of "the sukkah rebbe."


Hanukkah: or a holiday invented by christians for jews so that christmas break would seem slightly less unconstitutional.


Hanukkah pales in comparison of Purim or Rosh Hashanah, or even Passover, but I still dig it. My mom always makes sufganiyot and rugelach, which are both super good. We never did 8 days of presents, but we were never big on presents for any holidays, which was always okay with me. We lit the candles every night and sang Ma'oz Tzur. It's pretty great.


@yeah-elle SUFGANIYOT. So amazing.


@stonefruit Am I alone, then, in thinking that sufganiyot are always short on jelly, long on white doughy expanse? Or is that supposed to be part of the charm? btw hannukah sameach from j'lem!


@bibliostitute I think probably they are, but I'm not like opposed to lots of white doughy expanse (especially b/c it is usually dusted with sugar or glaze). Chanukah sameach to you too!


@bibliostitute My mom makes them small, like...about half the size of a clenched fist. And then instead of injecting them with jelly we just gather all our homemade jams and slather them. Mmmm. Hanukkah sameach!

Diana Clarke@twitter

You are forgetting the classic existential ditty, "I Am a Latke!" The poor potato pancake feels purposeless at all non-Channukah times of year.

@Diana Clarke@twitter I make latkes ("latkes?") out of zucchini during the summer. Same exact recipe, get rid of your zucchini it is revolting, so make it into something AWESOME. They're more like fritters, but you can dip them in stuff and it's awesome.

Jane Marie

@S. Elizabeth late, but i just had zucchini latkes with a dill and sour cream sauce. awesome.


@Diana Clarke@twitter I'm sitting in this blender turning brown. I've made friends with the onions and the flour, and the cook is scouting oil in towwwwwn.


The Chinese restaurant/movie thing is so much fun, though! When you're Jewish you get to enjoy all the fun parts of Christmas (decorations, cookies, peace-on-earth-goodwill-towards-men, sales) without having to deal with family drama or bankrupt yourself buying a million presents for everyone. I always feel like we got the better end of the deal.


@ostro Yeah totally! I love sort of free-loading just a little bit of christmas and then gorging on Chinese and movies. Its really the best.


How could you forget this most wonderful hanukkah song?!

Posted on December 10, 2012 at 11:01 pm


Also... we do know how to spell Chanukah! It's spelled חנוכה! It's not our fault the English language lacks guttural letters!


@Fredo Except that neither "כ" nor "ח" has a neat transliteration to English, precisely because we don't have uvular or pharyngeal consonants. So until we start writing everything in IPA, we're stuck with multiple variations.


@SarahDances Can we please write everything in IPA? I just learned the basics, and the potential for more people spelling more things correctly is tremendous.
Also it would make me feel like this was not a complete waste of my time. K thanks.


Have any 'pinners converted for their significant others? Any advice or stories? I'm in the very beginning stages of consideration and would love to hear some perspectives!


I was raised the product of a mixed marriage and my parents' approach to religion was to adopt my mom's motto "any excuse for a party," so we'd do the first night of Chanukah with her best friend's family and have latkes and tiny presents and fight over the rules of dreidel every time, and then do our own Christmas thing on the 25th. It was good times!


I'm not sure how I feel about circumcision being on the "things to be proud of" list.


I totally get that the oil story is not really a humdinger. Some lighting fuel lasts a slightly surprising amount of time is not really that impressive. There are lots of slightly unimpressive miracles like this in the Christian tradition too - and lots of the shared ones are also a bit rubbish (my children did Emperor Namaan at school last week and were underwhelmed).

Just have to comment though on people "appropriating" traditions - I think it's nice. Sometimes it's bonding. Halloween. Valentine's Day. Saying no one should share in your traditions - even if they do so clumsily - sounds a bit parochial to me.


@dontannoyme Appropriation isn't the same as sharing traditions. It's taking the "ideas" (capital I) and window dressing of a tradition and going "oooh, shiny!"
We have veered very far from the original Valentines Day and Halloween.


@Spaghettius! Incidentally, as I kid, I found out how St. Valentine was executed, and became even more dissatisfied with the hearts and teddy bears. Valentines Day could potentially be like Halloween x100, if only it had stayed truer to the source material.


@dontannoyme I think sharing in other people's traditions is ok when (a) you're actually sharing them with at least one person from the group that they're from, like @Emby, OR (b) they're virtually meaningless traditions, as opposed to something that has deep religious or cultural significance, say, wearing mukluks, as opposed to wearing feather war-bonnets.


@dontannoyme If I thought @iceberg's coworker, and the rest of the myriad non-Jewish people who pull this, were actually interested in *sharing* my traditions - like, learning about them, valuing them for what they really mean and not for unnamed "spiritual reasons" - then I'd be down. Heck, I'd invite them over to sing silly Yiddish songs and eat latkes and sufganiyot with me during Chanukah. OH WAIT, I actually have done that. With friends who were actually interested in sharing my holiday with me.

In my experience, though, they're not doing that. Instead, they're going, "ooooh look something exotic and new to me! I shall claim it as my own (and maybe put my particular religion's spin on it)!" It's not parochial to object to my religion, or someone else's racial/ethnic heritage (I'm thinking here of the recent trend of white folks wearing "spirit head-dresses," or however Urban Outfitters is marketing those, at music festivals ), being treated as an object of fascination and exotification.


@dontannoyme Let's also not pretend there's no difference between "appropriating" traditions of a majority group vs. a traditionally persecuted minority. I wouldn't say I'm offended by it, but I absolutely reserve the right to roll my eyes.

It's like when I mention Birthright to some non-Jewish acquaintance, and they immediately do the "Ooh, I wish I were Jewish so I could get a free trip to Israel!" Yuh-huh. Whatever you say.


The thing is, the story is about more than just some really efficient oil. It's about the Macabees (a word that means "hammer," which seems pretty bad-ass), a rebel army, fighting back against the oppression of a Greek ruler who destroyed the Temple, made possession of the Torah a capital offense, and killed women who circumcised their sons. After a series of battles (and instances in which the Macabees also forced people to convert to Judaism - they also weren't saints), the Temple was re-dedicated; there was only enough oil (there we go) for one day's worth of Eternal Flame, but it miraculously lasted for eight. Sure, the ending's a bit of a letdown, but whole "rebel army in the wilderness" thing is pretty compelling. It's like...the Biblical Star Wars.


@TiggerHalsey thanks for pointing this out (pirsum hanes!)--i found this article sort of irritating? i know this is one funny lady's expression of her own relationship with judaism--one that is prevalent in our culture (oy, thanks, Curb...), and true, i am feeling anxious about the potential implications of my veering away from more orthodox background on my own potential children (interdating! i want to write for the hairpin on this maybe? crazy family laughing/crying material galore)-- but the extent of trivializing both holiday and religious identity here flirts with something that just makes me feel kind of bad. maybe?


@truelove I found it a bit off-putting too, and a lot of what you've said rings true for me. We are certainly the People of Self-Deprecation, and I very much believe that people need to express their identities in ways that feel right for them.

Maybe that's what explains my reaction. My Jewishness (yup, we're calling that a word) is a major part of my identity; I love tradition and ritual, especially because they call up strong emotions that are closely tied to my family and myself. I think this article struck a nerve because of how important this all is to me.

Ryan Sholin@twitter

Nope. Most of our conversations with the five-year-old are about presents. Your thing is fun, though, too. Mostly presents. Yup. Presents. Can we open our presents yet?


Good job making a child that looks partly like Michael Fassbender.


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