How to Spell Chanukah, edited by Emily Franklin
c.2012, Algonquin Books
You’ve pretty much had enough of the red-suited guy. The holiday music is nice, too, but it’s meaningless to you. Lavish, twinkly trees are pretty to look at, but you can’t imagine redecorating your house for six weeks to accommodate one.
And presents? Well, it’s all good if someone wants to give you one, but that’s more for kids, isn’t it?
Christmas is a nice holiday, but it’s not your holiday. And in How to Spell Chanukah, edited by Emily Franklin, you’ll have 18 writers with whom to commiserate.
Once upon a time, you were insanely jealous of your non-Jewish friends and their piles of presents under the tree. You wanted to sit on Santa’s lap, you wanted to hang a wreath, but your mother, your father, Grandma – somebody – was uncomfortable with that. Instead, they pointed out that you have Chanukah, and which is better: one night of presents, or eight of them?
Oh, there were times you snuck some Christmas in your life. Like, for instance, when Chanukah overlapped it. Or when Dad or Mom decided that a mish-mash of tradition served your family well, so the latkes sat next to the Christmas cookies and you spun the dreidel beneath a decked-out tree (called a Chanukah bush, to appease Grandma).
You learned the words to “Moaz Tsur,” as well as those to “White Christmas.” And sometimes, that was confusing to you as a kid. Sometimes, you didn’t want to participate in Chanukah because it felt like taking sides. You even wondered why anyone would celebrate a minor holiday like that.
But then you found friends who shared your sense of humor and insisted on lighting the menorah, no matter where you were. Then you grew enough to realize that custom and history were important and precious.
Then you realized you were the Keeper of Tradition because your parents and grandparents wouldn’t be around forever to do it. Then you had kids of your own, and a reason to get out the dreidel, the chocolate gelt and the menorah you inherited from who-knows-where.
Yes, Chanukah might be defined by what it’s not (Christmas), but you know what it is: It’s your holiday, and a time for family – just like it always was.
Sometimes funny, sometimes nostalgic and always heartfelt, How to Spell Chanukah is the perfect droll antidote to a “Deck the Halls” overdose. Most of the stories in this anthology express their writers’ ambivalence, then embrace, of a holiday that hasn’t always felt like a holiday.
There’s a lot of Christmas-envy here, and the kind of memories that surely will feel recognizable; it’s almost as if each author had once taken a seat at your childhood table or hummed “The Dreidel Song” loudly in your ear just to bug you.
Keep in mind that there’s plenty of irreverence here, and an almost anti-Chanukah sentiment mixed with wonder. Still, if you need a few familiar chuckles, you’ll get a kick out of this book. For you, How to Spell Chanukah will suit you just fine.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Readers with questions or comments may write to Terri in care of this publication.