Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

I am in the middle of this domino effect of how I am reinterpreting the calendar of my year.

The holiday season is killing me. I mean, it is a horrible conflict in my heart. I am learning about Avodah Zarah . It seems to be so much LESS about a previous comment that was left, re: submission to G-d’s will (which I think is a really Christian concept, actually, I don’t think of Jewish people as being “submissive” to G-d for some reason, I think of them arguing with G-d and asking “Why?” and struggling every step of the way) and more about avoiding assimilation (because we were dispersed against our wills and are all just hanging in there making time till next year in Jerusalem… emphatically not assimiliating thank you.) In reading the commentary, I can see it, the reasoning makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t know if I can commit to it yet, but the arguments are compelling.


Our traditions, our family traditions, they mean something very important to us. To me. I’ve talked about this before on the blog, of course, and about my decision not to give them up yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m entirely 100% comfortable with the idea of not giving them up. I have not achieved balance.

So. El Dia De Los Muertos. Let’s talk about the Day of the Dead. Based on the Catholic All Saint’s and All Soul’s days, a celebration that is totally ubiquitious around my community this time of year. Obviously not a Jewish holy day. I lived in a primarily Oaxacan neighborhood for over a decade so it’s not like you could miss it. Our favorite bakery is the best place in LA for pan de muertos and sugar skulls. At some point in my previously secular life, the day spoke to me and filled a vacuum where there had previously been no meaningful ritual to deal with life’s final transition. I’ve celebrated EDDLM for years, and as more of my loved ones die each year, it becomes more and more important to me. Cultural appropriation? I honestly don’t know. There are cultural aspects that went into its evolution that I cannot understand, not being part of the culture it came from (one of these disconnects became quite clear to me tonight, actually) but I still respect it.

I have a weird idea of culture, because I have straddled multiple cultures my entire life. The culture of my apostate-Orthodox Jewish grandmother who wept when I lit candles and pinned all of her Jewish hopes on me; who gave me my menorah and taught me my prayers, yet served ham for Chanukah and decorated a Christmas tree with enthusiasm. The uptight Edwardian Brit culture of my dad’s family. My dad, that funny guy of British and Scots descent who plays the bagpipes, descended from that MacBeth, a guy who wears a kilt with flair – and who adopted a strange culture, learned Hebrew and took Judaism for his own so he could raise me in a somewhat Jewish home after my wandering mother left us for… travel, excitement, boyfriends, the life of a beach bum on Corfu. There’s the culture of my adopted Greek grandparents whose holy days and Greek traditions were a huge part of my young life. That wonderful family adopted my wayward mother in her wanderings and by extension, me. All these people and cultures are a part of me and I stand in the middle, not quite belonging fully to any of them. It is sort of the quintessential American experience, I think. In light of all that, no, adopting a holiday beloved by my neighbors and friends doesn’t feel like appropriation or assimilation. It feels like being a part of the community.

I live in a melting pot called Los Angeles, you can’t live here for 15 years and NOT assimilate, experience other foods, traditions, cultural influences. Maybe you can if you live in Pico-Robertson and send your kids to Jewish day school? But that’s not been my experience of living in this city as a secular Jew for 15 years. Maybe that’s it right there, the assimilation thing and why people worry about it. I think maybe I’ve hit on something important that I’m not ready to dissect yet, so we’ll table that point for now.

The point is, for years now, we have observed EDDLM on the day after Halloween and it has been a very special time for our family. Has always been, thoughout the years of my children’s growing up. We don’t pray any specific Christian prayers, we don’t honor any gods, we just have warm memories of our loved ones and sometimes talk to them and tell their stories and take a moment out of our busy lives to acknowledge that they lived. That they are not forgotten. The Jewish equivalent – Yizkor? Yizkor is confusing. It is more time standing up in shul, not understanding what people are saying, feeling disconnected and alone. I want it to touch my soul and give me that connection to those who have gone before. It just doesn’t. Maybe it won’t always be like that but for now, it is less about comfort and more about confusion.

This year, the EDDLM stuff went up, as it always has. Well… not entirely, this year I gave away the saints candles, saints being pretty obviously Christian symbology, ditto the Virgin candle. Everything else went up though. All the pictures, all the skellies, all the flowers.

By the way? Jewish people have some weird ideas about death that I don’t get. I don’t have a kneejerk reaction to death imagery as innately bad or polluted or scary. An old school Goth, I like skellies. Ditto an affection for stompy boots with striped knee highs. It’s all one big happy package, like clove scented smoke, an unnatural love of Tim Burton movies, a deep affection for the Cure…

So was it idolatry if there were no idols and nothing was being worshipped?

Of course, as I write this, I’m looking in my dining room and there’s a whomping huge tin Sacred Heart with a Virgin of Guadalupe in the middle hanging on the dining room door. It occurs to me, sinking feeling going on (not unlike when I virtuously ate a meat lunch last week, thought to myself ‘I have to wait six hours for dinner since we are having cheese tortellini’ and then proceeded to eat a bowl of chocolate pudding twenty minutes later because it didn’t occur to me that pudding is made with milk and therefore… dairy… oh bugger… not again…) that… uh… dude, that’s totally a Christian symbol. Like, I’ve always looked at it and thought, “Mexican folk art I purchased from a street vendor in Baja, which makes me remember that fun vacation we took in 97.” but it’s Mexican folk art with heavy Catholic meaning from a Catholic society which is why it is used in folk art (because the symbology is meaningful, not unlike our hamsa or chai) which…. yeah. Wow. Ok, penny dropping. Which is the big revelation and disconnect I mentioned above. You can’t understand something like that fully if you aren’t from that culture. You can respect the culture that it came from, but you’ll miss something important and unwittingly break the cardinal rule (which is “Don’t be a dumbass.”)

Y’all, I can give up the Sacred Heart Virgin of Guadalupe. But I am totally not giving up my skelly dog, or my dead tango dancers, or the bride and groom skellies I got to represent my grandparents (married 65 years, bless them) or my sugar skulls. They’re put back up in the dining room in their customary year-round places. I plan to table the EDDLM portion of the Wheel O Happy Holiday Fun Times and Confusion (Now With Fretting About Possible Cultural Appropriation) for another year. Obviously, Greek Easter is probably right out. Another holiday, gutted.

My point is? NOTHING IS SIMPLE ANYMORE. Everything comes with a struggle, with questions, and nothing is what it was a turn of the wheel ago. Not complaining. But I do have a headache.

Next up? Thanksgiving. Where I struggle with the fact that turkey is fleishig, pareve mashed potatoes are unacceptable to my family (there may be a full scale rebellion if I try to make them without butter) plus I must embrace the idea of pumpkin pie with Cool Whip.

As sure as G-d made little green apples, Cool Whip is SO NOT ON .


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