Veselé Vánoce a Šťastný nový rok! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Czech.)
I’m also celebrating the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah by lighting the candles on my menorah one by one to commemorate the Festival of Lights – this year, the holiday coincides with Christmas (and next year it will start on my birthday!).
Both of these pictures were taken in Jerusalem in 2012:
Left: Menorah in Jerusalem, with two candles lit for the second night of Hanukkah. (I took the photo the wrong way – it should be from right to left.) Right: Sufganiyot, or jelly donuts (“little sponges”), traditional food Jews eat on Hanukkah to celebrate the miracle of the oil which burned for 8 days.
As far as Christmas goes – well, we’ve done it, folks. In Czech Republic, we celebrated on what we’d call Christmas Eve in the States – the 24th in the evening. We ate our carp and potato salad, we stuffed ourselves full of cukroví (Christmas cookies) and continued to do so for many days, we waited for the bell to ring as a sign that Ježíšek came to decorate the tree and deliver the presents. Nope- no Santa here, it’s Baby Jesus who delivers presents.
Left: Carp and potato salad thanks to Czech Radio (I don’t take pics at the dinner table), Right: Czech cukroví courtesy of my Czech grandma, a picture from my first Christmas two years ago (so long!).
I’m excited about my presents; for example: earrings (I can always use more of those), a pen with reusable ink (so as not to waste plastic), three new notebooks (to write my capital-i Important thoughts in, and all the new Czech words I learn), warm home-knit socks (grandma-approved). My Czech mom sewed me a handbag that reminds me of Hermione’s bottomless magic bag – I love it!
And of course, I got Becherovka, a classic Czech liquor, and was cautioned to take one shot a day to ward away illness. It’s true- it would be a bold bacteria not to cower in fear in the face of this super-powerful drink.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to listen to my Christmas playlist long after the day is over because I love how happy it makes me feel (and productive!). We can find many gems of wisdom for the whole year in these beautiful songs. Here are three.
First up is Andy Williams’ 1963 “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” (link to song) a Christmas classic that plays in all the NYC department stores during the holiday season.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
with the kids jingle belling
and everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer.”
It’s easier to feel cheerful and generous towards everyone during the holiday season, isn’t it? We’d go crazy if we didn’t have a reason to celebrate in the middle of winter, when the sun tortures us by going down at 4pm. But the holiday lights go up and brighten the dark, Santa’s face is on all boxes of chocolate in the supermarket, and the more our bank accounts nosedive from buying presents, the happier we should feel to be in the giving spirit! (Right…?)
But we can use this time to be reminded to have “good will towards all mankind.” We are all human beings in need of love and comfort.
Frank Sinatra is the classic Christmas harbinger with his deep and beautiful voice! I have so many favorites by him. One of the best is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (of course).
Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now
Give in for just a moment. “Let your heart be light.” The people who show up for you in this season are your true friends, the ones who want to spend time with you too in a season reserved for family. Have hope for the future, live in the moment, live the best life you can, and stick by the loved ones in your life who really matter.
Lastly, a song that probably gets annoying it plays on the radio so much, and one we call “an oldie but a goodie.” Originally a John Lennon song, it’s also been covered nicely by Maroon 5. It implores us to think to the future, and of our fellow man. It tries to make something larger of the simple word “peace.”
So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year older, a new one just begun.
War is over, if you want it.
At this time we can reevaluate our outlook for the new year. How do we want to improve ourselves? How can improving ourselves improve the lives of those around us? War really is over, if we want it. If we, as the collective of humanity, don’t accept the conditions that lead to such anger and hate between people. Yes, yes, big words. Still, it starts with you. The golden rule says to treat others as we’d like to be treated. Gandhi said to be the change we want to see in the world. We have a certain amount of power to vote with our dollars, and to vote with our votes too! AND we can vote every single day, in every single interaction, for kindness and understanding. And those are not empty words.
I don’t know about you, but I always get the blues after New Year’s… what, another year? I have to start all over again? I should be happy, but since the holiday season is my favorite time of the year, I feel let down instead, like all the excitement and cheer is over. So I used Spotify to make a “Get Motivated Out of Your Sads” playlist to start the new year off on the right foot. Enjoy!