For most Americans, the holiday season is just around the corner, with Hallowe’en batting leadoff, followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’d be accurate to call it the Fourth Quarter Trifecta, but then I would be mixing my baseball and horse racing metaphors, wouldn’t I?
In our ridiculously commercialized society, this year-end concatenation of celebrations manifests itself in the form of decorations, costumes, and holiday sales. Hallowe’en, the Mack Daddy of costume-driven events, seems to be in some sort of demented feedback loop with our country’s pop-cultural fascination with zombies and vampires. (Ya gotta love a holiday that celebrates Candy and Grue in equal measures.) Meanwhile, the cooking mags all feature turkey recipes, and Christmas decorations have already begun to appear in the malls. It’s a festive mash-up! It’s ThanksChristmaWe’en!
It’s unfortunate, is what it is. When all of those late-in-the-year holidays get conjoined, each one of them loses a bit of what makes it special.
We Red Sea Pedestrians believe in a concept called l’havdil - differentiation. We differentiate between the sacred and the profane, between the Sabbath and the six days of Creation... and we differentiate between our own holidays, so that each one’s individual identity is preserved.
Here’s an example. One of the central ritual observances of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the sounding of the shofar - the ram’s horn trumpet. During Elul, the month preceding the holiday, the shofar is sounded every weekday at morning services, a form of spiritual preparation for the Jewish New Year. But on the day before Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is not sounded, so as not to diminish the special nature of the holiday.
For the same reason, we don’t eat matzoh (unleavened bread) before Passover when we are required to consume it. (Also because matzoh is famously constipating.)
If we were in charge of the year-end holidays (which we’re not), the Thanksgiving stuff would appear only after the pumpkins, candy, and costumes were all put away... and Christmas decorations would be kept under wraps until after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the official shot signaling the beginning of the Christmas season. But that’s just us.
Speaking of holiday seasons, our has just ended. The parade of Jewish holidays that began end-September with Rosh Hashanah, moving on through Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and winding up this past Friday with Simchat Torah, is now over... at least until Chanukah rears its exaggerated-out-of-all-proportion-to-its-importance head in late December.
I enjoy Simchat Torah. I like the comically informal Torah service, during which we clown around, wear ridiculous headgear*, and march around the synagogue with all the Torah scrolls. I am always moved by the last passages of Deuteronomy, when Moses ascends Mount Nebo to die, but not before gazing out upon the Promised Land that he will, himself, never enter... and by the reading of the creation story from Genesis that immediately follows it in our never-ending cycle of study. And the enormous quantities of single malt Scotch don’t hurt a single bit. But that’s all over for another year.
May we all be here to greet the next Holiday Season, whichever one you choose to observe!
*This year I wore three different hats: a jingly harlequin cap, an antique top hat, and my Warrior Dash souvenir buffalo helmet. (Alas, no colanders.) Too bad we don’t take photographs on holidays... at least, not in synagogue.