I really wasn’t asking for much. But it sure felt like I was.
My quest began at the local Safeway, a friendly enough place where employees smile and chat, and even ask if I am having an excellent shopping experience (never mind that the question was posed by a young man while I was standing in the aisle with the feminine hygiene products. I may have curtly told him that was not an appropriate question to ask at that very moment, in that particular aisle, even though he meant well). But I digress.
It’s usually around this time of year when I don’t feel the love from our local merchants. I am met by confused looks when I ask if they have a Hanuka display, followed by directions to the aisle with the gefilte fish, the Manischewitz wine and the matza ball mix. For some elusive reason non Jews think that those are staples for all our holidays. They are not.
If we’re lucky, a small display stand appears somewhere in the back of the store, on which can be found a handful of chocolate coins (gelt), a few boxes of Hanuka candles, and the usual fare just to cover all bases- gefilte fish, matza ball mix and memorial candles, which have nothing to do with Hanuka or any holiday for that matter but you never know, someone might have dropped dead and may need to be remembered….
This year however? Nothing. It’s as if the holiday didn’t exist at all. And when I asked? I was sent toward aisle 16. Yes….. gefilte fish.
Since Safeway didn’t come through for us this year, I took myself to Cost Plus. After all, they do refer to themselves as the World Market. And indeed, on a small table toward the back was a meager display of some interesting items. There were a few bags of star of David shaped pasta, a handful of jars filled with white and blue candy sprinkles, one lone, light blue flask, and one bag of napkins which read “Joy, Latkes, Grease.” But what struck me more than the very few items from which I could choose (mind you, our holiday had not yet even begun), was how hard manufacturers were trying to make our holiday feel like Christmas. From the sparkly blue star of David garland, to the ugly sweater wine bottle cozy, the items put me in mind of a holiday I enjoy witnessing as I drive past beautifully decorated homes, but not the holiday I actually celebrate. And as I circled the small display in case I’d missed the Hanuka candles and chocolate coins I still hadn’t found, a small handful of people gathered and reacted much the same way, astounded at the tackiness of some items, disappointed by the absence of others, laughing at the generous display of Manischewitz wine and the few bottles of “Hebrew – The Chosen Beer.” (Why does everyone think we drink so much?)
In the meantime, my resourceful husband found chocolate coins down a different aisle, until I pointed out that they were Minions which we right then and there declared Jewish from here on out. You heard it here first.
But the winner of the tacky, can we make Hanuka feel more like Christmas item? For this we had to go to our local Target (told you it was a quest…) And there it was – the notoriously “Christmassy” poinsettia, its wide leaves dyed a preternatural blue with a generous sprinkling of silvery glitter just in case we hadn’t made the blatant association. If you’d like one of these plant abominations, Target still has quite a few. It appears that the chosen people decided not to choose that particular item with which to pay homage to our heritage.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not railing against Christmas, (I used to leave cookies for Santa when we lived here in town off and on, since as my mother explained, Santa visits everyone. While no one drew Christmas trees with more enthusiasm than I did in Mrs. Reed’s first grade class). And my daughter and I traditionally watch the Polar Express, a steaming mug of cocoa with crushed peppermint candy for each of us as we revel in holiday movie magic.
But I would like this holiday of ours to be acknowledged, understood, remembered. I’d like local merchants to take the Jewish community into consideration as they place their orders this time of year. Point me toward the gefilte fish come Passover, leave the poinsettias in their brilliant red beauty, and don’t ask me if my shopping experience has been excellent unless you’ve made sure that all my shopping needs have been met.
A very happy Hanuka to those of you lighting the candles tonight, a very merry Christmas to those whose holiday is right around the corner, and a happy, peaceful new year to all.