a small thanks and two very different open letters

1. Thanks, everyone who gave advice on good games. Interesting: over the three places this blog is repeated (WordPress at my own site, Dreamwidth, Livejournal), I got a total of 18 comments, and the vast majority of them recommended one or more of just four games: Apples to Apples (6 recommendations), Fluxx (3 recs) Settlers of Catan (3 recs), Cranium (2 recs). There were also mentions of poker, cribbage and jigsaw puzzles. I think we may buy all 4 of the board games, to have a choice available and to have around to play other times. (We also have a deck of cards, several jigsaw puuzzles, and I think we may have a cribbage board somewhere.)

2. Dear Scott Lynch:
Well, yes, and that’s a great defense of why fantasy shouldn’t be restricted by the bounds of actual historic prejudice, but … speaking of actual history, don’t overlook the part where there really were female pirates, and apparently there were lots of them.

Which, of course, doesn’t mean your fantasy female pirates aren’t also wish fulfillment, any more than the existence of male pirates doesn’t make them wish-fulfilment for modern readers tired of desk jobs. And also, I still want to thank you for imagining worlds in which women were preferred for dangerous jobs, instead of having to lie about their sex or overcome other huge obstacles. What’s fantasy for if it can’t say “What if?”


3. An online acquaintance is teaching her first-grade class, in a very Christian region, about other holiday traditions around the world. Here’s a letter I wrote to them, about growing up celebrating Chanukah in a country where Christmas pervades December. Feel free to reuse this; I ask only that you let me know, and credit me if you print it anywhere:

Dear class,

When I was growing up, my family didn’t celebrate Christmas, because we’re Jewish. We celebrate Chanukah, which is based on a different (lunar) calendar, and so it can happen any time from the end of Novermber up through Christmas. It lasts eight days. A couple thousand years ago, the Romans took over the holy Temple in Jerusalem, and they trashed it and kept pigs in there. When the Jews got it back, they cleaned everything out, and then they went to light an oil lamp that’s always supposed to be kept lit. But they could only find enough prepared oil for 1 day. They lit it anyway, and the oil lasted for 8 days, which gave them enough time to make more. We celebrate Chanukah now to remember winning the Temple back and to celebrate that miracle of the oil.

Traditionally, kids were given money, or chocolate coins on Chanukah. But these days, most Jewish families give gifts and the kids get one present for each of the eight days. When I was a kid, we might get a big present like a bike one day, but other days would be something medium-sized, like a doll, or small, like clothing for the doll. We also got chocolate coins, and a traditional top called a dreidl that you play a game with. We light candles in a special holder called a menorah or chanukiyah, and say a blessing over them each night – one candle for the first night, two for the second night, and so on up to eight. Because Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the lamp burning for eight days, we eat fried foods to celebrate the holiday, especially latkes, which are potato pancakes. Some people eat them with either applesauce or sour cream, but I like them plain, with just salt. My mom makes great ones, crispy on the outside – mine aren’t so good. They’re a lot of work to make, because you have to grate lots of potatoes and onions, and the onions make you cry. Some people also eat doughnuts for the holidays, because those are also fried in oil.

It was a bit weird, growing up Jewish – I grew up in Philadelphia, which is in the US on the East Coast, so of course there were all the Christmas decorations and songs and TV shows, like you’re used to. Whenever we went shopping, all the stores were decorated for Christmas, but our house was decorated for Chanukah, with paper menorahs and dreidls and blue garlands. In school we sang Christmas carols, even though more than half of the kids were Jewish, but at home and in Hebrew school and synagogue we sang Chanukah songs, like “Maoz Tsur” (Rock of Ages, though not the same as the Christian hymn with that name) and “I Have a Little Dreidl”. Every year we watched Rudolh the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Peanuts Christmas special, and Frosty the Snowman on TV, and I always liekd those even though it wasn’t my holiday. My brother has a friend who has one Jewish and one Christian parent; he and his brother and sister used to get presents for both Chanukah and Christmas, and my brother was always jealous (but I think his friends probably got about the same amount of presents we did, overall).

Now I’m grown up, and I’m married to a man who is not Jewish, and we celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas. He watches while I light the candles on the menorah, and I help set up the Christmas tree, and we talk to both our families for the holidays. We like celebrating everyone’s holiday together.

yours truly,

Note to teachers: If you’re talking to very young kids, or have limited time, l, I don’t know if you want to have to explain a lunar calendar. Also, if you’re in a public school, I don’t know if you want to get into the historic / religious reasons we celebrate Chanukah. If not, leave out the parts in italics.

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2 Responses to a small thanks and two very different open letters

  1. The letter to the first-grade kids is really very lovely. Thank you for sharing it.

    Also, ahahaha, I hadn’t read that post by Scott Lynch; thank you for linking to it. (I do love Zamira Drakasha, I must admit.)

  2. Kate says:

    “The compliment of rational opposition” — one of my favorite Jane Austen lines ever! (I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, because I work at a newspaper, and our Theater critic is a mentor and takes a lot of flack sometimes.)

    Thank you for this letter. I found your post by way of the Velveteen Rabbi, and it has me thinking. I was raised wacky liberal Christian with reservations, and a lot of the public “Christmas” elements — Rudolph and Charlie Brown and guys in beards — grate on me too. They lead away from the holiday.

    I know others do, garlands and lights on trees and candles in windows, pine sap, red alder berries, donkeys and hay rides and hay barns. It’s a holiday about light, for me, and about gathering in the cold, about firelight, and most of all about having my immediate family together.

    I think all the tinsel would be harder, or more frustrating, if it wasn’t my holiday at all. But now I think of it, I often find my holiday by looking for the converse of the mainstream stuff. Forget the mall; I like ancient antique shops where the apple crates and lanterns and ski boots are piled to the ceiling in an unheated barn. And when I hear crooners turning beautiful medieval carols into syrup, I go looking for medieval Czech bagpipe music to cheer me up. (I had a roommate once who made Czech bagpipes. He said his next ambition was to make a tuneful hurdy-gurdy…)

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