*This post was written the day after Thanksgiving 2013*
I have had the most thanks-giving transition.
The day after I flew back to the states, it was the first night of Channukah. The next night, it was the rare unicorn-of-a-holiday, THANKSGIVUKKAH. Channukah, which follows the Jewish calendar, fell on Thanksgiving, which follows the Gregorian calendar. THIS WON’T HAPPEN FOR 79,000 MORE YEARS!!!
I take Channukah seriously. It’s a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. For American Jews, however, it is the PINNACLE of the year.
We get presents.
Us American Jews are generally jealous of the mid-winter joy that accompanies Christmas. Christian kids get Christmas lights, and Christmas carols, and Christmas trees, and Christmas dinner, and Christmas presents.
We, on the other hand, get latkes (which, granted, are delicious) and a menorah. Many Jewish kids, if they complain loud enough, also get presents. Presents aren’t traditionally a part of Channukah, which commemorates the Jewish victory over the Greeks and their king, Antiochus, in the 2nd century BCE. The Greek forces had taken over the 2nd temple and defiled it (among other things, sacrificing pigs, an unkosher animal, within the temple), but the Jewish priest Mattityahu and his 5 sons led forces to take throw out the Greeks. The rebellion succeeded, but upon returning to the temple the Jewish forces found that the eternal light (which was supposed to burn continuously) only contained enough oil to burn for 1 more day. It took 8 days to make more olive oil to sustain the fire.
The oil lasted for 8 days, until the Jews were able to make more oil to replenish the lamp.
IT WAS A MIRACLE!
So, we light one candle each night for the 8 days of Channukah to commemorate the 8 days the oil lasted.
And, since American Jewish children are envious of Christmas presents, we get one present each night.
We also fry latkes (made of potato, onion, egg, and matzo meal) because the oil we use to fry them reminds us of the oil in the temple. Some people fry donuts instead – it doesn’t matter what you fry, just that you do fry.
After they’re done, we eat them with applesauce.
The next day was Thanksgiving, which included more eating, more family, and football. I felt incredibly American to be sitting inside, preparing apple crisp, and watching the Cowboys on a big-screen.
I felt out-of-place, having been meting out my money the past few months, balancing food/lodging/fun, and suddenly more delicious food than I could eat in a month was placed in front of me, free of charge. Thank you, Lynne and family!
The kitchen was DECKED OUT with appliances – clean ones, fancy ones, and (the strangest of all) duplicates! More than one waffle-maker, more than one bottle opener… why? I had been traveling in a context where owning 2 pairs of pants was an extravagance.
People were wearing nice, ironed, uniformly-colored clothes. They wore perfume, or cologne. Everyone was so clean. And cleanliness was expected.
And when we ate, everyone neatly used silverware. Forks in left hands, knives in right hands, don’t eat the turkey leg with your hands! Separate your mashed potatoes from your cranberry sauce from your sweet potatoes. Wipe your mouth with your napkin.
Where’s my flatbread? My tortillas? I don’t think I can eat without using my fingers anymore.
I certainly felt less strange than I had coming back from Kurdistan, but I did feel similarly overwhelmed by privilege. Overwhelmed by the amount of comfortable living at my fingertips. I think, because the US is a relatively rich country, the expectation is to put money into your appearance. In countries like Nicaragua, the poorest Central American country, people take pride in their appearances (women always take showers and brush their hair before leaving the house) but there’s less money to spend on it.
I felt constrained. Extremely lucky, to be able to drink water from the faucet, and travel on paved roads, and eat a huge delicious Thanksgiving meal, but nevertheless constrained.
There are more rules here. We can afford it.