‘Tis the Season of Light, ‘Tis the Season of Whimsy


There’s a reason this time of year holds so many festivals from all kinds of cultures and religions–and that those festivals often involve a tradition involving light.

In part of the world the days draw short. Before the world understood the relationship between the sun and the earth, people might have worried that the darkness would take over and the sun would never return. The world would fall into cold, a magical but chilling layer of white.

World of White

What better way to combat the darkness then to create festivals of light and gather around the hearths for warmth?

fire and light

With the twinkle of light comes a sense of magic, of somehow crossing the line between reality and dreams.


We begin to enter the world of whimsy, where animals talk, faeries flit, and beauty comes in unexpected ways.

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Despite the sadness of the season, I still love the magic and find comfort in the flicker of a candle and in the whimsy of a snowflake.

Festival of Lights compressed

Do you find this season magical? What gives you comfort in the darkness and the cold?

Turning Holiday Fear into Holiday Cheer

Given the response I received on yesterday’s post “‘Tis the Season for Sadness” it seems I struck a chord, and that many people struggle through this season for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s the shortness of the days, the weather, the hormones, the overwhelming busy-ness, the commercialism, or whatever–many struggle at a time which is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” (that has always been one of my favorite songs of the season)

So what do we do about it? Do we just paint smiles on our faces, attach jingle bells to our clothes, and force ourselves to participate in the festive joy? Or is there a simpler answer, a way to enjoy the season and the time with family and friends without ignoring our own emotions or overwhelming ourselves with fake good cheer?

I have decided to take control of my emotions by giving myself permission . . .

  •  . . . permission to feel the sadness that I should expect to feel on the anniversary of my Dad’s death.
  •  . . . permission to say “No” to invitations that sound overwhelming or feel obligatory
  •  . . . permission to give gifts because I want to and if I have a special idea, not out of obligation
  •  . . . permission to enjoy the things I like about this season in quiet ways: the magical feeling of twinkle lights and holiday decorations; the taste of eggnog and the smell of cinnamon; candles burning and my winter village decorating my home; the promise of time off from the daily obligations of academia; the music–in small doses . . .

The Eight Night

Yesterday Sarah opened her eight present for Hanukkah. We don’t give her eight gifts every year, but this year it felt right. Her gifts this year were (in no particular order): fuzzy pajamas, a Red Sox Champion t-shirt, a 1000 piece puzzle of candy, a gift card to a book store, DVD of Polar Express (which she wanted) and Holiday Inn, a pen/stylus combo to use for her Kindle, and this special decorate-it-yourself calendar.

Nothing major, nothing huge, nothing overly expensive.

When she opened this creative calendar she looked confused at first, until I told her that it was designed by her former art teacher and my good friend Jackie Haltom. She searched to find Jackie’s name, but sadly it was for the company Jackie works for and so she doesn’t get any real credit. The point is that Sarah was thrilled to have something so simple and creative that reminded her of someone she cares about.  That’s pretty special.

Now, since my in-laws are Methodist, Sarah has grown up celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. I never celebrated Christmas until I was in my twenties, living in Japan and then when I moved in with Nathan. However, I do believe in the magic of the Christmas season, and love the sense of possibility that it brings. So, when I realized that we would be celebrating in some way every year, I’ve tried to build that magic into the celebration.

We have a stuffed reindeer named Oliver (who existed before Sarah) who disappears every year a few days before Christmas to help Santa pull his sleigh. He has own sleigh bell and everything. He magically reappears every Christmas morning, no matter where we are. Santa also always knows where to bring Sarah’s presents, since she is very rarely at our house Christmas morning. Last year, when Sarah wanted a bike for Christmas and we were in Hawaii, Santa took a picture of the bike in front of our house and left that under the tree with a note.

Oliver just put his jingle bell on and is ready to help Santa.
Oliver just put his jingle bell on and is ready to help Santa.

I love that my ten-year-old daughter still believes in Santa, or at least she’s willing to believe in believing which is just as good.

This year, however, when I asked her what she planned to ask Santa for Christmas she gave me the best answer ever. “I don’t want anything. I have everything I need.”


I suggested that maybe she ask Santa to do something for someone else. She said, “I’d like Santa to send a special gift to Kamea” (Her best friend from Colorado whom she misses very much). Santa needs to get on that.

The whole point of this story is that this time of year, to me, is about recognizing the relationships we have and the moments that make life special:

  • the people (like Jackie and Kamea) who’ve been part of our journey;
  • the moments when we choose to believe in magic
  • the smiles that will come as we put our puzzle together on the next snowy day
  • The cozy dreams tucked away behind windows filled with warmth.

Winter Village

I don’t have to feel lonely this season, because I have the people I love near me and friends to write letters to. I don’t have to feel the pressure of jollity because I can choose when I go and when I don’t. I don’t have to feel let down if I don’t have any expectations. I don’t have to lose the magic if I hold the magic inside me.

I’m okay with that.

I wish you all a holiday season filled with simple joys and peace. And, not that you need it, I “give you permission” to take care of yourself and let the rest go.

Does that help?



‘Tis the Season for Sadness

‘Tis the season, I guess.

Every year, as the hustle and bustle surrounding Christmas grows, as twinkle lights appear in trees and window, as festive songs play for far too long on radio stations determined to jump straight from Halloween to the end of December . . . every year I feel myself fall deeper into a well of sadness that I cannot really define.


This year the sadness comes from deep inside. I approach the upcoming anniversary of my father’s death with a sense of guilt. I never really said goodbye, and I blame myself for that. And then I went on living . . . I know, I’m supposed to go on living, but I still feel a sense of intense loss that he is not here to share with me the incredible journey I’ve been on for the past year. I miss him and wake up in the wee hours of the morning wondering what he would think.

Ben Kramer, May 22, 1933-December 19, 2012
Ben Kramer, May 22, 1933-December 19, 2012

But even that is not the root of my sadness. Perhaps it adds depth to the feeling this year, but it is a feeling that comes every year at this time. ‘Tis the season when I feel the most disconnect–as if somehow I am always on the outside looking in at the festive swirl around me. Sometimes, though, I become aware that I am not really alone in this. A note of desperation underlies the festivities–joy tainted by a film of discord–happiness forced because people are supposed to be happy, not because of any natural feeling.

Outside looking in . . .
Outside looking in . . .

‘Tis the season when I find myself wandering through the passages of memory, as the spirits of “what if?” whisper messages in my brain. I reflect on friendships past, or friendships lost, or friendships that never grew to fruition. I lose myself in the quicksand of unfulfilled dreams and then become mired in the fears that hold me back. My fears and doubts overwhelm as I drift between the urge to overindulge in the festivities that surround me, and the desire to hide away with a blanket and a good book.

‘Tis the season where my emotions lie near the surface and yet I hide them behind smiles and bright colors. ‘Tis the season where I often wear red.

‘Tis the season when I feel most alone.

Do you ever feel this way at this time of year?

Preparing for Thanksgivukkah

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Two of my favorite holidays meet and become one.

Getting ready for the first night. My friend the turkey wanted to hold up the menorah.
Getting ready for the first night. My friend the turkey wanted to hold up the menorah.

While a lesser holiday in terms of Judaism (and not my favorite) I always love lighting the candles and using that time to reflect on  . . . well . . . life. Of course, this is a minor festival about rededicating the Temple after it was destroyed, that has now grown to epic proportions as it competes against the never-ending–all-consuming holiday known as Christmas. But for me it has never really been about the presents (although I like getting thoughtful ones) or about consuming large quantities of fried latkes (they are best with applesauce). No, for me it has always been about that quiet moment after the candles are lit, when my mother would wind up the music box on one of our menorahs and we listened to “Ma’oz Tzur” and watched the flames. For me it is a moment to reflect on what it means to be strong in the face of a world that seems to always want to keep you down, and to stand true to yourself even when everyone else says you are wrong.

Over the years, Thanksgiving in my family became mostly about the food. Still I always loved the fact that we were together as a family, without the obligations of spending the day in temple (like on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) or fasting. I loved watching the parade on tv with my dad, before the commercials and commentary took over. I loved my mother’s pie and stuffing and sweet potatoes. I liked playing board games with my family or simply lying around watching movies and reading books. Once Sarah was born, I wanted to begin having some traditions of our own. I held my first (slightly terrifying) Thanksgiving  meal with my family at my house and asked them each to write a page for a Thanksgiving memory book. I planned on doing that every year, but life moved swiftly after that, and each Thanksgiving has had a different twist. Some years we managed to get together as a family; some years Nathan, Sarah and I volunteered to help serve at a community Thanksgiving; some years we gathered with friends who became family and other Thanksgiving orphans, some years we were alone. Each year I try to find a way to make the day special, to think about what being thankful truly means.

This year the two holidays meet and have turned into Thanksgivukkah.

The other day, Renee over at Life in the Boomer Lane wrote about her objections to all of the silliness of merging these two holidays which seem to have absolutely no connection with each other. I understood her objection, but I couldn’t deny that I was looking forward to it.

A few days later, I was listening to “Boston Public Radio” on NPR and heard a brief discussion with Rabbi Moshe Waldoks about what he thinks of Thanksgivukkah. He pointed out that Hannukah is not supposed to be just about the miracle of the oil. “I wish it would happen every year,” he said. “I think it takes Hannukah out of the the Christmas sphere . . .” He goes on to explain how, in order to re-dedicate the temple (Hannukah means dedication) they had to re-celebrate the Tabernacle, which is a harvest festival. For the full discussion, visit the BPR New Quiz: Thanksgivukkah Edition. 

I realized as we began to plan for our Thanksgivukkah festivities that there is another reason why I’m embracing this so fully. This will be the first Thanksgiving without my Dad. The last two years have been bittersweet celebrations as we watched this fun-loving, intelligent man slide deeper into the world of memory and loss. In some ways, this year will be bittersweet as well, as we all still mourn and we all miss him so very much.

An image from Thanksgiving 2011 taken by my brother. The essence of regret. For more beautiful but sad moments from that day click on the image.

But that is all the more reason to make this holiday special; to celebrate our blessings; to reflect on how we face our ordeals; to watch the flames and rededicate ourselves to a life working toward good, positive things.

The Thanksgivukkah preparations have begun, and for that I am grateful.

Happy Thanksgivukkah everyone! I wish everyone, even those not celebrating, some moments to reflect on the good things that make life worth living.

Ice Cream Tastes Better . . .

I’m feeling a little nostalgic and lone today. I haven’t given my daughter the Memorial Day she deserves as a child. Maybe next year. But, thanks to her, and the little tinkle of music coming down the street, I got to eat a strawberry shortcake and find some words to write (words that have avoided … Read more…

Birthday Wishes

I am reposting this birthday post from last year, because I think I should. I don’t know what it is about March 14th but I know more people born on that day (myself included) than any other day of the year. It has never really just been my birthday, since I was born on my … Read more…

Resolving to Forgive

The New Year is right around the corner. As usual I have put in the back of my mind the resolution to lose weight, to get healthy, to exercise more, to write more, etc. However, those are promises I’ve been making and breaking too often now, and I just recently recognized that there is one … Read more…

Kindling the Lights of Hanukkah

My daughter quivers with excitement, unable to sit still or concentrate on homework. It is the first night of Hanukkah, and she cannot wait. I wonder though if to her this night is only about opening one of the presents that are piled on the table. She counts the number daily to see if there … Read more…

It’s the Loneliest Time of the Year

Bah humbug! Okay, maybe I’m not that bad. I like Christmas. I like the holiday season. But, every year at this time I feel lonely deep inside. Maybe it is the number of required festivities that bring me down. There’s nothing like an Office Holiday Party to make me feel like I am a stranger … Read more…

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