Shtick is a useful word this time of year. So is kitsch. The sad fact of holiday hype has descended like the Assyrian with banners of purple and gold, which must have been an awful blighter. All festive colouring aside.
If you’re celebrating a holiday in the near future—Chanukah and Christmas are among the usual culprits—then you’re about to participate in something enduring in the fantasy tradition. Fantasy and holidays, at their best, celebrate much the same things.
Chanukah and Christmas both celebrate miracles—the eruption of the divine into the mundane, G-d’s intervention in crisis. In that sense, these holidays tread the familiar vistas of fantasy, what Professor Tolkien called the ‘shadowy borders’ of the Perilous Realm. And their heart, they’re celebrating encounters between our world and another—a change, a twist in the subtle fabric of time that guides the world on a different course.
As I’ve said before, an important part of the holiday traditions is to complain about holiday traditions. The season just wouldn’t be complete without at least one acerbic article griping about the awful music at the mall—just like it wouldn’t be complete without the awful music at the mall.
Better yet are the articles complaining about how we’ve misunderstood our religious traditions—or imposed religious traditions where they’re not wanted—or imposed holidays on our religious traditions. In other words, a series of op eds to join in a collective ‘Humbug!’
Of course, we all need to be reminded not to say that. So insist the publishers and producers. How many Christmas specials much a man sit through before he knows what they say? Then buy the accompanying paraphernalia at your nearest big box retail outfit, and you’re on your way to that magical place.
That place where you can use words like shtick, and kitsch, with gleeful impunity.
We’re all feeling guilty at this point, because no matter how much we’ve done, we feel like we’ve forgotten something. Not too surprising. We have.
Life is always most exciting when it’s uninteresting.
I believe in the magic of the mundane. There’s something exciting about polishing the chanukiah in anticipation of those eight days of prolonged Shabbat—something that has nothing to do with kitsch, or the true meaning of the holidays, or that music we can’t wait to despise each year.
It’s the sense that the mundane, boring dust cloth is deceptive. That somehow, it’s cheaply woven fabric is woven into that space between worlds. That our ordinary house on our ordinary street lurks near the borders of the world—ever changing, we know—that the lights of the holiday will twinkle through the tangled branches of the Perilous Realm.
The holidays bring the stories into today—we look forward eagerly to remembering again what happened. Or what could have happened. Or, better yet, what might have happened, if it happened the way we remember the stories being told.
The lights tell their own story, flickering on the chanukiah or glittering around the tree. The world seems transient, thin, as if the miraculous might burst through, as if the stories our fathers told might become the stories we tell. As if, after all, grandmother was right. Then, if we remember, the veil is pulled aside.
Hush now, not so much noise. You want a story? I’ll tell you as story my mother told me, when I was a little girl. It’s a story her grandmother told her, when she was a little girl, about another little girl, who lived long ago in a place like this one, but very far away. It happened on a night like this night, when the snow had already fallen and hung silent on the trees…