Not very much in a festive mood on the first night, I started griping about the things that annoy me on Chanukah. But since my blood type is B positive, I always try to put a good spin (pun, sad to say, intended) on things. Here's some unsolicited, but well researched advice on how to make the most of five nutty things about the Eight Crazy Nights.
- No Good Music: Too bad Madonna's love of kabbalah hasn't inspired her to make a Chanukah album, which would be only fair given the number of Christmas albums by Jews. We're represented way out of proportion in Hollywood, Capitol Hill and Wall Street, and yet there's still an absurd lack of popular Chanukah music for the holiday season, which helped make Adam Sandler a multi-millionaire. If you're as sick as I am of the three non-family-friendly versions of Sandler's "Who's A Jew?" set to music, try kindling to a playlist of some Doors ("Light My Fire"), Blue Oyster Cult ("Burnin' For You") or "Will You Light My Candle?" from the "Rent" soundtrack, with anything by Pey Daled mixed in. For authentic Chanukah-themed music, try the three Jewish songs on "Barenaked for the Holidays," and Marc Cohn's awesome accoustic version of the Maoz Tzur/Rock of Ages in English. (For next year, Marc, how about "Walking In Modiin?") There's always Matisyahu if that's your cup of ginger beer, or you could throw your latkes in the air tonight with these YU guys.
- Dangerous Food: Traditional Jewish eating is rarely a healthy proposition, and much less so on Chanukah. With my maughter insisting that I cut my fried-food intake, I'll be deferentially keeping latkes and jelly doughnuts to a minimum. When I googled healthy Chanukah recipes, there plenty of low-fat, low carb offerings. Cauliflower latkes anyone? It may be less fun in the short term, but your pancreas and arteries (not to mention your dependents) will thank you later. After the first couple of nights, try to steer clear of the chocolate gelt, too
- Materialism: Are your kids itching for an Xbox and Kinect to replace last year's Wii? Are they ready to chuck their laptops for a new MacBook Air or an iPad? Read Sharon Duke Estroff's "Can I Have A Cell Phone For Chanukah? The Essential Scoop On Raising Modern Jewish Kids" for great perspectives on saying no, for their good and yours, while still being generous enough to show your appreciation. You could hint to your kids that the book ($11.07 on Amazon, $9.99 for the Kindle download) would make a great gift. Me? I told my kids "Here's another year of free room and board. Go nuts, and you're welcome."
- "Fire Bad:" Whether its bedikat or biur chametz or lighting the menorah, there's nothing more tragic than an unnecessary, preventable fire or burn injury that results from a religious observance. It's common sense to keep menorahs away from curtains and watch the kids, but plenty of people leave menorahs burning in their window when they leave the house, a bad idea, especially if you have active or curious pets. Candlelighting prep time is also a good time to check your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Frying latkes can also be hazardous. Here's some good tips from the OU on keeping safe.
- Meaninglessness: With no disrespect to Christmas, it's clear that the relatively minor observance of Chanukah has been bumped up in prominence to compete. But using Chanukah an excuse to cover your house in lights, give gifts and send cards is just ironic given its anti-assimilation origins. Everyone knows we are commemorating the miracle of oil lasting eight days in the Temple, but the real miracle is that we not only survived that battle against oppression but numerous other annihilation threats to tell the tale centuries later. Here's a link to an excellent eight tips for making the festival more meaningful.
Chag sameach, and keep the fire burning!
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