It’s that time of year (for some). The time when you have to think up presents for everyone. It’s hard.

But there’s one person who wouldn’t be a problem. You know exactly what you want to give that person. You know she’s quiet and locked inside herself. You know he’d benefit from reading

because you’ve read it yourself. You know it’s an easy-to-read, no-nonsense, comprehensive book.

However, there’s still a problem. You don’t want to embarrass that person. If he opened it in front of others, he wouldn’t thank you for giving it to him.

How can you give her the book, disguise what’s inside the package and make sure she opens it when she’s alone?

This is where your creative abilities come in. I’ve done my part. I wrote the book and I put the challenge to you!

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What is Christmas for me, a Jew who lives in Israel and hails from the UK? What was it?

Up to age 11, I didn’t take a lot of notice of it. There were trees with lights behind lots of windows. Radio and TV were full of it. That was about all.

At age 11, I found myself suddenly immersed in a tradition I didn’t recognise. I soon learned the tunes of the carols we had to sing every day. I sent cards to friends because everyone did and my goal was always to fit in. And then there was that art lesson….

“Today, you can draw Christmas pictures.” The teacher (I think she was called Mrs Durell) seemed to think this would be fun for us. My heart sank. Fit in, said a voice from inside. “For the Jewish children, you can draw something from the festival you have at this time if you want, but I’m told there isn’t much to draw.” A general murmur of agreement arose. I kept quiet, although I knew this wasn’t true. We had drawn pictures of Chanuka at my old school. That’s how I learned to draw a cube.

chanukadrawings

Fit in, said the voice. But I don’t know what or how to draw for Christmas. Fit in. I looked over a girl’s shoulder and copied her tree.

At university, I remember singing carols, including one about beautiful feet.

Edit: I’ve been corrected by someone who remembers much more than I. I think I was confusing our “College Carol” with the aria from Handel’s Messiah. Here’s the right one. The only connection with feet is in the words stand forth on the floor, at which we would stamp our feet.

At work, there were drinks. There were always drinks. And the following conversation in the bar with one of the men:

“What are doing for Christmas?”

“I’m going to a conference in Oxford.”

“That’s an unusual thing to do for Christmas. Most people spend it with their families.”

“Oh, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We’re Jewish.” It had taken three months for them to find out.

Then I moved to Israel and Christmas was reduced to watching the evening service from Bethlehem on TV. That’s really all I saw of it.

Nowadays, with social media, Christmas has become much more visible to me – at least the commercial aspect of it has. Also, due to Internet connection, I am able to listen to the BBC. The other day, on Women’s Hour, there was a discussion about stories behind children’s nativity plays. Within those stories, at least two girls had been told they couldn’t be Mary because they were Jewish and didn’t have blond hair. In the podcast, after the live programme, there was mention of the fact that Mary was Jewish and also that, since she lived in the Middle East, she probably didn’t have blond hair.

I am bemused by the assumption that, while I might not take any part in the religious aspects of Christmas, I will celebrate in some way because everyone does. No. Here, work and everything else carries on as usual, even on Christmas day. This year, though, will be slightly different due to the fact that it coincides exactly with the minor festival of Chanuka. As always, schools will be open on the first day of Chanuka, which is also Christmas Day this year (and also Sunday – the first day of the week here) and they close for the rest of the festival. Work continues as usual.

By the way, as I’ve mentioned in previous years, there are about fifty ways of writing Chanuka in Latin letters, but only one in Hebrew:

חנוכה

And here’s a comedy sketch I enjoyed. Comedian Elon Gold explains why Jews are better off without Christmas Trees. https://www.facebook.com/StandWithUs/videos/10154184787887689/

Whatever festival you celebrate at this time, I hope it’s happy and enjoyable and all you wish for.

This subject came up recently because of Sue Barnard’s poem based on the cumulative song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, about which Wikipedia says:

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses.

I had heard this song before, but I think I need to know more about it in order to understand Sue’s poem.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking about all the cumulative songs I know.

These are the ones I remember:

  • Green Leaves Grew All Around
  • Green Grow the Rushes, O
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

And two songs we sing at the Passover seder:

  • Chad Gadya, a song in Aramaic that tells the story of one little goat.
  • Echad Mi Yodea, which, like Green Grow the Rushes, O, allocates an object to each number.

Apparently cumulative songs are popular with choirs because the words are easy to remember. I certainly remember the words of those Passover songs.

Do you have any favourite cumulative songs?

Chanuka2012MiriamIt is said that all Jewish festivals can be described in the same way:

  • They tried to get rid of us.
  • We survived.
  • Let’s eat.

Chanuka is one of those. It’s not the most important festival, but it’s fairly well known because it comes at about the same time as Christmas.

SvivonimI looked for a short explanation of Chanuka, and found one on Lisa’s beautiful blog (Blogger wouldn’t link to the post itself):

Chanukah commemorates two miracles which occurred on behalf of the people of Israel. The first miracle was the military victory of a handful of Jewish warriors against the mighty armed forces of the Syrian-Greek army. The second miracle was that while going through the ruins of the destroyed holy temple only sufficient oil to light the menorah for one day was found, yet the oil miraculously burned for eight continuous days. That is why Chanukah lasts eight nights.

SvivonimThere are three main traditions for Chanuka:

  • To light candles – one, two… up to eight on each night of the festival and sing Maoz Tzur.
  • To play with a sevivon/dreidel/spinning top.
  • To eat foodstuffs fried in oil.

The sevivon has four letters on it. One of the letters is different in Israel from sevivonim found in the rest of the world. There, the letters stand for (A) Great Miracle Happened There. Here, they stand for (A) Great Miracle Happened Here.

SvivonimThe candelabra (I see the correct word is: candelabrum) used to light the candles is called a chanukiya. In other countries it is often called a menorah. This is incorrect. The menorah has six branches and was used in the Temple. The chanukiya has eight branches (or nine). The extra one is for the shamash, the candle used to light all the others.

SvivonimFood. We Ashkenazi Jews, who migrated via Europe, eat levivot (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (doughnuts). Sephardi Jews, who migrated via Arab lands, and some via Spain and Portugal, eat other fried foods. Bimuelo, ma’akouda and mofleta are some of the names I found.

SvivonimIn London, where I grew up, I attended a Jewish primary school and a “secular” secondary school. In those days, secular secondary schools celebrated Christmas and it was impossible to opt out altogether.

I loved the tunes of the Christmas carols, but didn’t feel comfortable with all the words. When I had to sing one, solo, that fact caused me to sing it quietly, and the teacher probably thought I was nervous or didn’t have a good singing voice. I was never chosen to be in the choir.

In an art lesson in the first year, we were told to draw something for Christmas. There was an option for drawing Chanuka objects, but it wasn’t encouraged and I, of course, was always trying not to stand out. However, I had no idea what one drew for Christmas. So I looked over someone’s shoulder and tried to copy her work.

We gave each other presents and cards. That was all right, although I was always aware that it wasn’t really my festival.

My children don’t know about any of these feelings, and I’m glad of that. They missed out on the Christmas carols, but they got Chanuka songs instead.

SvivonimHappy holidays!

SvivonimTo see all the other Crooked Cat stories, poems, giveaways and more during the six-week event, join our Facebook group.

Neither Here Nor There, my romance with a difference, is available from Amazon, Crooked Cat Books, Smashwords and The Book Depository.

Chanuka with the Crooked CatsThe authors of Crooked Cat, publisher of my romance with a difference: Neither Here Nor There, are holding a six-week extravaganza of stories, poems, free giveaways and more, called: CHANUKA WITH THE CROOKED CATS, or something like that!

In honour of this unique event, I am publishing, here on my blog, my Christmas story with a difference. The story clearly takes place in a year that isn’t this year, because this year Chanuka ends on Christmas eve, whereas in the story there is a gap between the end of Chanuka and the beginning of Christmas.

If you want to discuss anything in the story, you’re welcome to do so in the comments below. Please comment promptly because I’m going away in a few days and might not be available to respond.

By the way, while there are about fifty ways of writing Chanuka in Latin letters, there is only one in Hebrew: חנוכה.

Who’s Santa?

Everything I hear and everything I see seems to have something to do with Christmas. On the TV and the radio, and in magazines. Everywhere. They talk about it and sing about it and have pictures about it. I think it’s boring. When I turned on my favourite TV programme – Doctor Who – and found that was all about Christmas, I was so fed up that I actually switched off and even read my library book instead.

At school, we only talk about Christmas a bit of the time. Keith said we must never write Xmas, even though it’s easier to spell. That’s because the X stands for the cross and we don’t believe in that. Keith was also the one who told me I must never look for a rainbow in the sky when it’s raining and sun shining at the same time, because I don’t know the brocha for it. I think that’s a shame because rainbows are pretty and it’s nice to look at them. I’ll have to find out what the brocha is and memorise it. It’s probably something like, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, for giving us the rainbow.” I wonder how you say rainbow in Hebrew.

On Tuesday, when Mummy took me home from my piano lesson, it was dark. On the way back from the bus stop, we passed three houses with lots of little flickering lights. I knew what they were. Christmas again.

“Why do people have Christmas trees?” I asked Mummy.

“Oh, it’s part of celebrating Christmas,” she said. “And people put them where others can see them as they go past, just like we put our Chanukah menorah on the window sill for people to see.”

“Why is everyone talking about Christmas?”

“Well, Christmas is a big thing for Christians. It’s their most fun time of the year.”

“What’s our most fun time of the year?”

Mummy had to think about that one. “Maybe Purim.”

“So why doesn’t everyone talk about Purim like they talk about Christmas?”

“Because there are a lot more Christians than Jews. And lots of people celebrate Christmas, even if they don’t believe in it.”

I like to be happy and have fun. So I said, “Why can’t we celebrate Christmas?”

“Because we have our own religion and we’re happy with that.”

“But I want to have fun, too.”

“And you do. At Simchas Torah and Purim. Remember?”

Well, that’s true. I love all the singing and dancing in shul. And I love dressing up on Purim. I suppose what I meant was that I want to have fun now.

The next day, I met my friend, Johnny, in the street. I like Johnny because he’s only six and I’m seven, so I can tell him things. Once, I told him how many more Corn Flakes coupons he needed before he could send away for a football, because he didn’t know how to work it out. And another time, a big boy walked past us and Johnny wanted to know what it said on his shirt. “It said, ‘I came on Laura’,” I told him.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

So I told him. “It means that he made Laura hurry up.”

This time, it was the other way round. Johnny told me something I didn’t know. He said, “I want Santa to bring me a train set. What do you want him to bring you?”

“Santa?” I said. “Who’s that?”

“You know. Father Christmas.”

“Who’s Father Christmas?” It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard of Father Christmas. But I never really took much notice before.

He looked up at me and frowned. “You must know that. Everyone knows that. Father Christmas brings presents to all the children. He lives in a very cold place with lots of snow and ice, and on Christmas Eve he flies in the sky pulled by a reindeer and gives out all the presents.”

I didn’t know there were special deer that came out in the rain, but I didn’t like to say I didn’t know that, either.

Then Johnny said something else. “Father Christmas only gives presents to good children. Maybe you’re not good and you’ll go to that place where there are fires burning all the time.”

It didn’t seem bad to me to have fires burning. Especially if there was ice and snow there. Still, I punched Johnny in the tummy. Not a real punch – just a pretend one. “I’m good,” I said.

We played outside for a while, taking turns to ride my new scooter, which I got for Chanukah. It was while I was running after Johnny that I saw something small and flashy on the pavement. I stopped, picked it up and started to examine it. Johnny soon came back. “Hey! Why did you s…,” he started. Then he spotted my prize and his eyes widened. “My dad’s got one of them. It’s a cigarette lighter.” This business of Johnny telling me things was getting to be a habit I didn’t care for. “Try pressing that button quickly,” he said.

I pressed. Nothing happened. So I pressed again more quickly and a flame sprang up. “Cool.”

“Can I have it?” Johnny asked.

“No. I found it.” I put it into my pocket – after letting go of the button, of course.

 

Afterwards, on my own in my room, I decided to experiment with the lighter. The first thing I tried it on was my counterpane and… well, I decided not to try it out again, although it made a nice smell. I hope Mummy and Daddy don’t notice that pretty hole in the counterpane with the black edge. I wonder if Santa ever burns holes when he lights his fires. Anyway, while I was doing that, I thought about what Johnny had said about Santa giving out presents only to good children and all that. Maybe we were bad because we didn’t have a Christmas tree and that was why Santa didn’t bring me presents.

I was still worrying about it when I went downstairs and saw Daddy sitting on the sofa, reading the newspaper. So I asked him, “Why does Santa bring presents to Johnny and not to me?”

Daddy put the paper down beside him, laid his glasses carefully on the little table and pulled me onto his knee, like he always does when he wants to explain something to me. “Daniel,” he said. “There is no Santa. Santa is someone made up and Christian parents pretend that he brings presents for children. Really, the parents buy the presents.”

I was shocked. “You mean Johnny’s mummy and daddy lied to him?”

“No. It’s not a lie. It’s just a story they tell him, and when he gets older they’ll tell him it’s not true.”

“How do you spell Santa?” Spelling is my thing at the moment, and I bet Johnny doesn’t know how to spell it.

“S-A-N-T-A.”

 

I thought about that in bed. Daddy said it wasn’t a lie, but it did sound like one. I thought Johnny ought to know about it. Then I thought about that game – Scrabble – that my big sister, Rachel, often plays with Mummy and Daddy, and how I wanted to join in and they all told me I’m not ready for it. So, the day before, I asked Rachel how I could get ready for it and she said, “It’s all about making words from a group of letters.”

“How d’you do that?” I asked.

“Well, take the letters of my name: R-A-C-H-E-L.” She took a piece of paper and a pencil from the sideboard drawer and wrote down the letters. “You can make lots of words with those letters. Car, care, race, hear, heal, real, arch, larch and lots more.”

“Now do my name.”

“D-A-N-I-E-L. And, end, lid, line, dine. There’s even a word that uses all the letters: nailed.”

“I don’t like that one,” I said. “I wouldn’t like to be nailed to the wall; it hurts.”

She smiled. “OK, I see another one: denial.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s when you say no to everything.”

“I like that,” I said. “I’m always saying no to Mummy and Daddy.”

So when I was in bed, thinking about Santa, I wondered what the letters S-A-N-T-A could make. But I think I fell asleep without thinking of anything. When I woke up, I knew Santa was bad. I don’t know why – I just knew it. And I decided I had to tell Johnny about him.

 

That day, after school, Johnny came to my house to play with me and Mummy gave us tea. We drank hot chocolate and ate Mummy’s jam doughnuts. I love doughnuts, especially when I bite into a jammy bit and all the jam suddenly spurts out everywhere. I know Mummy thinks I get jam all over my face and hands on purpose, but I don’t. It just comes. Anyway, while we were eating and drinking, Mummy asked Johnny, “What do you want from Father Christmas?”

Johnny said, “A train set.”

I said, “There’s no such thing as Santa.”

Mummy said, “Of course there is.”

I said, “No, there isn’t. Daddy said so.”

Mummy ignored me completely. She turned to Johnny and said, “Don’t listen to him. He’s just being naughty.”

I was hurt. I wasn’t being naughty at all. I was being good and teaching Johnny something he needed to know.

After Johnny left, Mummy called me into the kitchen. I sat on the stool. She sat next to me on the folding chair and I saw the frown that always makes the wrinkles round her eyes show up more.

“Daniel, I’m sorry I had to say you were naughty, today,” she said. “It’s really very good that you teach Johnny things. But there are some things you shouldn’t teach him. If his mummy and daddy want him to believe in Santa now, you shouldn’t tell him he doesn’t exist. Johnny will find that out when he’s older. All right?”

“Yes,” I said.

 

It makes sense, I suppose. It would be confusing for Johnny if everyone told him different things. He wouldn’t know what to believe. So, for now he’ll carry on believing he gets presents from a man who lights fires to keep warm in the snow and ice, and is pulled along by deer that come out in the rain.

All this makes me wonder whether grown-ups have told me any lies. I wonder about the tooth fairy. And about Haman, the wicked man who wanted to kill all the Jews on Purim. There couldn’t really be someone who wants to kill all the Jews, could there?

WhosSantaTo see all the other Crooked Cat stories, poems, giveaways and more, join our Facebook group.

Neither Here Nor There, my romance with a difference, is available from Amazon, Crooked Cat Books, Smashwords and The Book Depository.

…when someone wishes me merry Christmas or happy holidays or season’s greetings. I’m just amused.

Because, while we have plenty of holidays here, only the Christians celebrate Christmas, and not all of those celebrate it on 25th December. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th according to our calendar, the Armenian Church on January 19th.

When I lived in England, the day was special for us because it was a day off for most people. We used to spend it with my uncle and aunt and cousins in their house, and we always enjoyed it.

But here in Israel it’s a non-holiday for us, a normal day. If I went to the Old City, I expect I’d see signs of celebration in the Christian Quarter, but elsewhere there are no signs at all. What amuses me is the assumption by some people that the whole world celebrates Christmas in some way. So if I send greetings, I usually get the same back.

People who think about it a bit more might say, “Happy Chanuka.” Most years that would be suitable, but Chanuka came early this year.

Only one person replied in the same way as I usually do when people wish me a happy whatever: “Thank you.”

Today I went into town to get a new battery for my watch and do some shopping at the market. I took some photographs to show how normal everything was. Well, almost.

The train was crowded, as usual.

Light railway train into town

Light railway train into town

More so on the way back when it would have been hard to take out my camera.

All the shops were open, including the watch shop that I needed.

Ben Hillel Street

Ben Hillel Street

Ben Yehuda Street looked as usual,

Ben Yehuda Street

Ben Yehuda Street

except for the piles of snow, still there eleven days after the last snowfall.

Pile of snow

Pile of snow

All over the Machane Yehuda market, it was business as usual,

Machane Yehuda market

Machane Yehuda market

including my favourite sweet shop.

Sweet shop

Sweet shop

Back at the end of the light rail line, a bus weaved between

.

Har Herzl light railway station

the mounds of snow.

Har Herzl light railway station

Har Herzl light railway station

And I carried my shopping home.

No, I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas. We’ve had quite enough snow for this year, thank you. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if I never saw another snowstorm like the one we had last week, beautiful as it was.

But as we did have a snowstorm so close to that holiday that’s somehow connected with it, I thought I’d post some links to posts about one or the other.

I also saw pictures on Facebook of a snow bride, a snowman wearing a skullcap by the Western Wall and a snow toilet and basin.

It’s a good thing Chanuka was early this year and over well before the storm began.

Snow at night

To all those of you who are celebrating Christmas, I hope it turns out exactly as you want it to and you have a lovely time.