It’s the final night of Chanukah 2020. I could have just said “the final night of Chanukah” but I want to differentiate between all the other Chanukahs which sort of meld into a single montage of winter memories and this one which, like everything else this year feels strange, bland and just, so… so 2020.
All of the traditions we’ve come to love this time of year- parties, outings to the West End to see a show, skiing over winter break- have not been possible. People celebrated Chanukah this year the same way they did pretty much every other holiday and milestone; over Zoom. In fact, a good friend of mine made a Chanukah Zoom bar mitzvah this past weekend and although all of the attendees were neatly confined to their digital boxes, their faces shone with joy and light (partially from their menorahs) and they celebrated the hell out of the bar mitzvah boy.
Sure, Chanukah is different this year, but that doesn’t mean it has to succumb to the “everything in 2020 sucks” convention. We’ve all had to work more creatively to find the joy that used to simply fall into our laps by virtue of the fact that it was the most wonderful time of the year.
This year, we traded crowded, dounut-fueled parties and winter wonderland-themed bar and bat mitzvas for silly Tik Toks, sitting by the light of the candles and letting their glow wash over us, appreciating the fact that this is the year of the pyjama. This year we learned to lighten up (unintentional Chanukah joke), to have fun despite the chaos.
Fun and chaos are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it has been in my darkest moments in life that I’ve most needed to laugh.
My dad died in December 2004, three days before Chanukah. My siblings and I, all adults except for our 13-year-old sister, sat shiva in our childhood home and the third night of shiva was the first night of Chanukah. The never ending stream of people coming to comfort us meant that there was no natural break for the five of us to excuse ourselves to light Chanukah candles. So, at one point we simply got up, walked to the adjacent dining room and awkwardly murmured the blessings while a room full of our friends and our parents’ friends looked on with pity and love.
We huddled near the window and lit one wick floating in olive oil on our dad’s silver menorah, trying unsuccessfully to stifle our giggles. It wasn’t a ‘ha ha’ laughter, rather an awkward, nervous, “can you believe this shit?” titter. But it also served as a tension breaker for us, a private, shared moment for five siblings alone in the world now that our parents and grandparents were gone.
We cried during that week of shiva and Chanukah but we laughed a lot, too. We reminisced about our dad and joked about how annoyed he would have been by all of the lights burning in the house for an entire week. We made plans for our futures and for our kids’, the ones already born and the ones who were still figments of our imagination. Because the world doesn’t stop even when the worst has happened. But it is humor that makes the worst that much more bearable.
This Chanukah, like the rest of 2020, was not what any of us had envisioned, but we lit our menorahs and ate our latkes and sang our songs and opened our presents. Just as we’ve done all of this year, we managed to find humor and joy (albeit through memes) amidst the debilitating uncertainty and chaos. As long as we keep doing that, we will be ok.