This year, Chanukah (Hannukah) the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, starts on November 27th. As I added the date to my calendar and arranged to visit my family in Calgary for the first few days, childhood memories filled my mind: memories of saying the blessings, lighting the Chanukah candles, singing songs; of playing games with my sibling and eating latkes (potato pancakes) with applesauce; and, the blue and white fairy lights that lit up the night.
Now, fairy lights are not part of Jewish Tradition...but they are an important symbol for me of how I was raised in a loving family, proud of my Scottish-Jewish heritage and respectful of the cultures and people around me.
When I was five-and-a-half years old, my family emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to Regina, Saskatchewan. I remember a bit of culture-shock, although as a child it wouldn’t have been nearly as much for me as for my parents. As they were teaching me and my two older sisters what it means to be Jewish, they were experiencing the differences in Scottish and Canadian cultures, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
The most complicated time of year in the beginning was Christmas. We have no equivalent to Christmas. And in Scotland, Christmas was a fairly quiet holiday. But in Canada it was a big deal! At the beginning of December, every house on our street was suddenly covered with twinkling multicoloured Christmas lights; there were lawn ornaments and nativity scenes, and Christmas trees in living room windows.
What could my parents do? They didn’t want to be the only undecorated house on the street, but they couldn’t very well decorate the house with Christmas lights either. So they covered our house in blue and white fairy lights. That’s what they called them – fairy lights. (I think they were Scottish fairies). It was magical, but also a bit confusing for me as I tried to figure out why we were celebrating with our neighbours but it wasn’t our holiday.
That year, Chanukah started on December 27th, so we wouldn’t be putting the menorah in our window until after Christmas, and I was concerned that Santa Claus would come down our chimney and there wouldn’t be any cookies, milk, or tree to put the presents under. I told my parents that we had to find a way to let Santa know that we were Jewish so he could skip our house.
Now, my parents could have told me there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, but they didn’t. My Father built a large wooden Star of David, strung it with blue fairy lights and put it in the window so that Santa would know that we were Jewish. And it worked. Santa didn’t come to our home, and even when I was old enough to know better, we still put the Star in our window every year.
Now, when I light the candles and say the blessings, I am thankful to my parents for giving me a childhood full of light.
Happy Chanukah and Season’s Greetings! May you celebrate this season in your own way and start your own traditions to push back the darkness and fill the world with light.
Fiona Prince (aka Morah Faiga) is a Communications & Behavioural Consultant in Victoria, BC. She volunteers for Chabad Vancouver Island, teaching children and adults how to read Hebrew.
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