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Sharing Holidays

Posted 12/22/2016

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  As some of you know, I am a (lapsed) Episcopalian married to a Jewish man. Since this has been a wonderful second marriage for us both, we did not have to confront the really tricky issues around children. The only times that our traditions have needed mutual attention as been at this time of year.

  I still smile when I remember the first time we went Christmas tree shopping together. A first for my then fiance, he was baffled why some of the trees looked very thin with all of the branches smashed down or even tilting up. Clearly he was unfamiliar with the wrapping that trees endure for shipment. The closest parallel experience for me was cooking potato latkes for the first time and being horrified by the mess and pretty unimpressed by the finished product.

  We have both come a long way and now appreciate the chance to have both a menorah and a gingerbread house in the middle of the table on Christmas Eve. Since this year, Hanukkah's first night coincides with Christmas Eve, it will be even more fun. 

  And here is the tie to cancer: none of us, once we have received a cancer diagnosis, experience any holiday or important event in quite the same way. Perhaps the holiday stress is a little better managed as we hold a wider perspective, but, then again, it may be even worse--especially if we are feeling badly. One certainty is that we notice and appreciate and wonder if we will be here next year.

  From Susan Gubar, a particularly wonderful essay:

When Your Holiday Is Chrisnukkah

Susan Gubar

This year, when Hanukkah arrives on Christmas Eve, I will remember the holidays back in 2011. At that time, my doctors believed I had only a year or so to live.

Very sick from cancer and chemo, I wanted to survive long enough to see my younger daughter settled. At the hospital for yet another blood test to see if the white cells had regenerated sufficiently to be zapped again, I received an email from her: The apartment her fiancé had found would be large enough “for a you-know-whatee.”

“What do you think ‘a you-know-whatee’ is?” I asked my husband, Don.

“A piano?” he guessed.

There and then, in the hospital waiting room, I decided it was time to buy a Christmas tree.

This rite had always sounded like a grand adventure, for I envied friends with a living tree in the house. None had ever been in my home, where my girls had prayed that Hanukkah would fall around the same time as Christmas so we would not feel cut off from the cheer of carols and twinkling lights. Menorah candles, chocolate gelt and dreidels were not to be found in our small town in Indiana. That they had to be mailed to us by relatives on the East Coast plunged me into an annual funk.

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