Monday, December 24, 2012
In church yesterday, Ann and I sat in a pew with Cute Cousin Michael and 92 year-old Betty and heard the Christmas story re-told, as it is every year. Different people in the congregation, kids and staff, read Bible selections and the congregation sang hymns.
As the story progressed, a living crèche emerged: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus who was in a manger; angels and lambs (who have the best costumes every year); shepherds and wise men. (My favorite moment was when one of the wise men, who could not get near the manger because of the greenery, threw his gift down to the baby Jesus.)
This is a season for miracles, the season for telling stories.
Last weekend, Karen invited friends to her home to celebrate the last day of Chanukah. The plan was to light many menorahs and tell the story of the miracle, a tradition I love, but her friends didn’t cooperate with her plans for telling the story.
She had planned a game called “Strangers on a Train,” which was a little complicated for the group and required that newcomers not sit on the only apparently available seats in the room because these seats were the train seats.
Newcomers rolled their eyes as they were asked to move and Eve, dressed in dark greys and blacks, repeated, “I don’t understand this game.” A twelve year-old boy tried to explain the rules, but she was too irritated by having to move to another seat to really try. Besides, I think she was really saying that she didn’t understand the point of the game, and after one round, others agreed that this would be a Faulknerian telling, since it would be very long and fragmented.
Finally, Karen asked, “Can someone tell the story?”
Another Karen, a woman dressed in a black sweater, black pants, and black rimmed glasses, began the story somewhat curmudgeonly, as if at last this would be done right, “There was a king somebody,” she started.
And the chorus of voices began. Judy added, “Maccabee. King Maccabbee. That’s why they were called the Maccabbees.”
“Right,” continued the Karen-in-black. “King Maccabee. But the Syrians ruled the land, and it was a violent time for the Jews. One night, Syrians came to the temple and tore it apart.”
Another voice chimed in, “They had false idols.”
And yet another: “No false idols! That’s a different holiday.”
“Desecrated the temple,” corrected Yarrow. “They desecrated it.”
“There were false idols,” said someone.
“No false idols!”
“Right. The Syrians desecrated the temple, and…”
“And the Jews needed to be sure that the eternal flame stayed lit. Though someone did find one small bit of oil, it was only enough for one night,” continued Eve who was once irritable but was now engaged. “It would take a trip of four days out and four days back to get more oil….” She demonstrated the trip to and fro with two fingers walking down the table and back.
And another voice, “I think there were false idols.”
Not willing to take this misdirection again, Karen-in-black banged her fist on the top of the bookshelf she was leaning against. As she pounded her fist, she yelled, “No false idols! No false idols! No false idols!” She laughed. So did I.
From the kitchen came the smell of Ellen frying potato latkes in oil, a smell that saturated the room.
“So a man went off to get the oil for the eternal flame, and those people who remained lit the candle…”
“And the miracle was that the candle burned for eight days and nights. That’s why the Menorah has eight candles (plus the shamash which is used to light the others).”
“Yes, that’s the story. Shall we sing?”
And the group, once grumpy, joined in song. Another miracle.