This year, my family’s big Hanukkah celebration included the requisite latkes, applesauce, and sour cream, my aunt’s homemade challah, my dad’s blintz casserole, and a gift exchange. It also took place at 10 o’clock in the morning on the Saturday after Thanksgiving - about a week before Hanukkah actually began - and the main course was scrambled eggs. We kibitzed, we ate, we took pictures, and we opened presents - but we didn’t light candles, and we didn’t say prayers.
This somewhat nontraditional gathering was necessitated by the simple practicality that there was only one weekend when my cousins and I could all be in the same place. Still, it was a little strange. We did most of the important stuff, and we were together, which is what really matters, right? But the casual abandonment of some basic rituals I grew up with left me a little unsatisfied. It’s not like my family has ever been “religious,” per se, but religious rituals can signify a whole lot more than just the fulfillment of some centuries-old contract with an unseen God.
I’m twenty-two years old - the baby of the Beertown crew. I first moved away from home a little over four years ago, and this year I moved even further, to take a job I barely understood in a city where I hardly knew anyone. My parents are living apart from each other while my mom goes to graduate school, my grandmother just moved out of the condo she had lived in for thirty years and into an assisted living facility, and about a week ago my dog had to be put down. Not lighting Hanukkah candles may seem like a pretty insignificant change in the scheme of things, yet I know if I had done it, even on my own, it would have been a comfort.
What role do rituals play in your life? What are the rituals of the community you grew up in, and how do you carry those rituals with you even as you leave that community behind?