You didn’t move all the way from New York to Alaska to reconnect with Judaism.
And yet here you are, engaged in that time-honored Jewish tradition: telling your kids they can’t have a Christmas tree.
Although you daughter’s been asking for several holiday seasons, this year she’s old enough to construct more compelling arguments. She’s also enlisted her little brother, a precocious disputant in his own right. They don’t often caucus together, but when they do… man, that filibuster can last forever.
Let the record show, they’ve also asked for a ferret — thankfully, that proposal died in committee. But Christmas trees present a thornier issue.
You, yourself practice a “fusion” Judaism, or “Fudaism.” You conceive of ideas like frying potato “latkes” in bacon fat and impregnating matzoh balls with ground beef. You call it the “Meatsohball” (patent pending).
But really, you’re Jewish by convenience. For instance: while watching “Seinfeld.” Or cursing in Yiddish (the only vocabulary you know). Or trying to preserve a small shred of the cultural identity that brought your great-grandparents to this country in the first place.
Easier said than done. Living in the middle of a boreal forest, you’re literally surrounded by Christmas trees, at least according to your 6-year-old son, who points them out, one after another, from the back seat.
“Christmas tree, dad, another Christmas tree, dad, more Christmas trees, dad.”
Disavowing him — no, that’s actually a western hemlock, that’s a yellow cedar and those are Sitka spruce — would ruin the rest of the drive for everyone.
Alaska, itself, serves as a constant Yuletide reminder. Up here, it begins to look a lot like Christmas as early as October (not always, but you recall multiple Halloween snowball fights; one year, a stretch of -10-degree weather freeze-dried everybody’s jack-o-lanterns). And walking in a winter wonderland often remains a popular pastime through April.
Not to mention all the “false” Santa Clauses. Recent census puts Alaska’s population at 731,450; you swear half those people are pot-bellied old guys with big white beards.
Plus, where else on earth do you find actual reindeer? Okay, fine, Norway, Finland, Siberia, Greenland and Canada. But do they eat Rudolph for breakfast? Or grind Donner into chili before nailing Blitzen’s antlers to their mailbox?
And there’s only one North Pole. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true, either. You’ve got Geographic North Pole, Magnetic North Pole and the hamlet of North Pole in the Adirondacks… But there’s only one incorporated city of North Pole, and it’s in Alaska, 99705. And that place is filthy with false Santas.
Of course, you recognize Christmas trees are more secular symbols than religious. And you like Christmas. It’s hard not to love a holiday that spells two months of eggnog.
You’re not a Grinch or a Scrooge or a Charlie Brown from that other holiday special. You’ve got no problem saying “Merry Christmas,” and you don’t you get your yarmulke in a twist when someone says it to you. You’re pro-merriment, in any form.
But while the “War on Christmas” isn’t your war, it’s not your holiday, either.
And that, you ultimately tell your children, is why they can’t have a tree, no matter how tempting the excuse to run the chainsaw.
Obviously, there’ll be fallout, by which you mean meltdowns. Whoever wrote “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” never spent winter recess with two disappointed little kids. Please, you’ll take a scorned woman, any day.
And so instead of focusing on a holiday you don’t celebrate, you vow to make something special of the one you do.
This year and henceforth, you’ll create a Hanukkah to top all Hanukkahs. Yes, the Great Alaskan Hanukkah, or, as, you’ll call it, “Alaskanukkah: The Festival of Northern Lights.”
Break out that old menorah and put on your dreidel-spinning shoes. For eight nights you’re going to party like it’s 165 BCE!
Little background. Hanukkah, aka “the Festival of Lights,” celebrates a small band of ancient Hebrews who, after defeating the Syrian-Greek army and liberating Jerusalem, re-dedicated the Holy Temple — of which the Western Wall still stands — by lighting one day’s worth of oil that miraculously lasted eight until more could arrive from neighboring traders. Hence lighting a ceremonial eight-candled Hanukkah menorah.
Point is, aside from providing the first documented warning about over-reliance on foreign oil, Hanukkah holds little religious significance. Perfect, as the prime purpose of Alaskanukkah will be supporting our consumer-based economy. After all, even in Alaska, we’re still part of America: land of the free, home of the Whopper®.
In keeping with the seasonal tradition of consuming salt, fat and sugar, you will cook “latkes,” which are essentially deep-fried hashbrowns (hence frying them in bacon fat). Added bonus, the other traditional Hanukkah food: doughnuts. Not only will you highlight this ritual in Alaskanukkah celebrations, turns out you’ve been observing it all along, every time you go to Fred Meyer.
But for now, better string up some lights around the deck. For Alaskanukkah, yes, but also to see the grill better. Last night you totally scorched some Alaskanukkah reindeer sausage, which was like getting a lump of coal in your stocking, only you had to eat it. And you’d almost run out of ketchup. Thankfully, the dregs of that bottle lasted way longer than expected. Maybe not eight nights, but long enough to avert another kiddie caucus, at least for one meal.
Now that was a true Alaskannukah miracle.
• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears twice monthly in Neighbors.