This season I bought a pack of dreidels. I grew up celebrating Christmas, yet was never religious. My marriage was created on beliefs and words from The Alchemist by Paulo Cohello, which we took to be ‘inspire and be inspired by the one you love, yet be on your own journey to achieve your dreams.’ Our children were not baptized nor christened. We believe that it is our obligation to create a sense of community through the relationships we build and strengthen with our family and friends and our surroundings to provide our children and ourselves with the structure and foundation upon which to grow, thrive and develop into respectful, vibrant, successful and compassionate young people.
The dreidels were ripped into before I could share their history. The children, ages 4 and 2, began to spin the tops on the living room floor and begged to know what the symbols were. I used the opportunity to share the story of the dreidel on our iPad, where we identified each of the four letters- nun, gimmel, hey, shin (none, all, half, put in) - not long after ‘Gimmel!’ could be heard being cheered from our home. The children were thrilled to share the game with family, and my mother wondered out loud, ‘Why didn’t we ever do this with you children?’ while we played for raisins on the coffee table.
Ironically, the driedel is associated with Hanuukah to the general public, but its origin is not the holiday. According to MyJewishLearning.com, “One 19th century rabbi maintained that Jews played with the dreidel in order to fool the Greeks if they were caught studying Torah, which had been outlawed.” Additionally, “In England and Ireland there is a game called totum or teetotum that is especially popular at Christmastime. In English, this game is first mentioned as “totum” ca. 1500-1520. The name comes from the Latin “totum,” which means “all.” By 1720, the game was called T- totum or teetotum, and by 1801 the four letters already represented four words in English: T = Take all; H = Half; P = Put down; and N = Nothing.”
In our house, we put up a tree and the lights and watch all the classics. We invite the awe inspired by Santa Claus coming to town with Rudolph leading the way and we talk about the basics of the festival of lights. We listen to holiday songs and plan a big lavish meal with family and friends, and we spin dreidels. Most of all, we try to conjure up the spirit of the season, and impart the importance of sharing spirit with others to our little ones, and oftentimes, remind one another as adults the same. While we don’t ‘take christ out of christmas’ (as anyone whose birthday could really bring all this attention and joy and goodwill to others is worth celebrating!), we believe in the simple emotion of wrapping up a year with festivities, celebration, tradition and love for all.
While shopping for our tree, a man at random turned to me and said, “I just don’t feel it, the spirit, this year.” I smiled and said, “Oh, I sure do. It’s there, it’s bringing the community together. Find it in him, ” I said pointing to the man’s son. The man grinned, and patted his son on the head. We wished each other a happy holidays and were both a bit brighter for having done so that evening. He just needed a little community, a little reassurance, and reached out to a stranger to get it. We can’t be afraid to reach out to a stranger for a little cheer.
Do one thing each day for someone else or for general community this season. It is not just a season for religion, you do not need to believe it the ‘right’ God to celebrate. Realize that the holidays are, simply put, are celebrations of miracles, both in Jewish and Christian religions, and a celebration of tradition. Miracles are simple magic that can be created with a smile, a kind word or gesture and especially, by dropping judgement. Make miracles in the final days of December as we prepare to clean the slate for 2012. Believe in today- and make a little magic happen.