The Festival of Hindsight

For some time I’ve been amazed at how much emphasis Jews put on Chanukah. Not only is there major gift giving which includes expensive presents for both children and adults, but in many Jewish homes the number of Chanukah decorations rival the Christmas ornaments in the homes of non-Jewish neighbors. Twinkling electric menorahs glow through windows. Living rooms are festooned with glittering replicas of dreidels, and colorful banners that wish everyone a happy holiday swing gaily over doorways. Much to my surprise, one of my own kids strung blue and white lights around the frame of his front door.

During this season, we Jews like everyone else, help the economy make up for the rest of the year as Sisterhood gift shop proprietors and other merchants sell huge mounts of holiday merchandise. Undoubtedly, Chanukah, once considered a minor holiday, has, for many, taken on the importance of something far greater. I hesitate to mention why this phenomenon has occurred, but I think it has something to do with what one of our Ten Commandments warns us against– coveting what your neighbor has.

It astounds me how much things have changed since I was growing up. During the Depression, other than my crayoned picture of a dreidle or star, I cannot recall my parents ever displaying a single decoration in our home. The only way we knew that Chanukah was approaching was that Bubbie would purchase a flimsy tin menorah from the kosher butcher. Along with it, she bought a box of orange candles. Multi-colored ones that cause today’s children to argue bitterly over which colors to use each night had not yet been invented. As I recall, the only gift we received was "gelt" and that in the form of a few pennies to buy candy.

Everyone knows that the times we live in today are quite different, but I don’t think it’s more obvious than when Chanukah comes around. One thing never changes however. In most Jewish homes you can still smell the delicious aroma of latkes frying in the pan. And luckily, most of us can’t even tell when they’ve originated in a box.

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