December 05, 2005

A fresh perspective, and the lights of the Jews

I am somebody, who never gets very (if at all) excited about Christmas. Infact, I always wait anxiously for this holiday to be over.
Here in Iceland, Christmas preparations begin as early as in October or November. This means that early December (aka right now), our society is literally swimming in Christmas, eventhough it's almost 3 weeks away.
I must admit, that eventhough I dislike this holiday to the extent that it practically begins to resemble an allergic reaction, my experience this year has been completely different. The reason is not that I've acquired a sudden love for Christmas, but that I have been seeing all the preparations and customs through the eyes of somebody unfamiliar with the process, somebody seeing it all for the first time, and finding it all to be a spectacular cultural experience, as opposed to something that's simply always been done. I am, of course, referring to my boyfriend, Shlomi, who has always celebrated Jewish holidays in his native Israel. His questions, fascination and interest in what I've always found to be banal, gives me a fresh perspective on things I've always looked upon.
An example of something that really blew Shlomi's mind, was the fact that pretty much every single household in Scandinavia (at least Iceland) puts a so called "advent light" in their window in December. Everybody knows that the custom was taken from Jewish tradition, and the light also goes by the name "Jew light" (Gyðingaljós).

Advent light ("Light of Jews")

The story of the lights arriving to Iceland, is as follows (in a nutshell):

An Icelandic business man called Gunnar Ásgeirsson traveled to Sweden in 1964, where he purchased these lights. They were brandnew in Sweden, and had been based on the idea of the Jewish Hanukkah lights. After Gunnar brought it back to Iceland with it, it became a great success in Iceland, but didn't gain popularity in Sweden until 1980.
The lights have received much attention from foreigners, who have often asked if Judaism is of great importance in Iceland.

Interestingly enough, the article also mentions that the man, Gunnar, comes from the same small fishing village in the West Fjords as my mother, Ingibjorg. For curiosity's sake I looked him up in the "Book of Icelanders" (an online program that enables Icelanders to check how they are related to one another). And what do you know? The man who brought the "lights of the Jews" to this remote piece of ice & fire, was my mother's cousin.

Posted by Maria at December 5, 2005 12:23 PM | TrackBacks
Comments & Trackbacks

Wow, that is an awesome story. I never knew that. "Light of the Jews", who would have ever thought. Ya, I was never really that into Christmas either, until a bunch of know-it-all Jerks started a war against it here in the USA. Now I can't get enough. Merry Christmas everyone, Gentile and Jew alike.

Posted by: Max L at December 6, 2005 07:04 AM Permalink

That is such a neat blending of cultures! I put a link to this post at my site, I hope that's okay.

I'll be checking back to your site often, I love to learn about the Jewish religion and culture.

Posted by: Jana at December 6, 2005 04:59 PM Permalink

Max: Thanks for the sweet comment, hope you're doing good.

Jana: It's more than okay, hope to see you again.

Posted by: Maria at December 6, 2005 05:28 PM Permalink

Any insightful comments on this?

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at December 8, 2005 11:28 AM Permalink

Yes, David, one comment. The rabbi phrased his comment very wisely.

Posted by: Torbjörn Karfunkel at December 10, 2005 12:03 PM Permalink

Hi Maria! This is JUST the post I needed to read now!

First of all, it's the first time I hear someone saying she doesn't like Christmas. I only get Christmas through the Web, mostly Webshots and people's emails, and I am certainly tired of it. Lately I began thinking that I must be overreacting, but if someone who grew up in a Christian society is not excited, than I guess I'm pretty normal.

Now that doesn't mean that I don't understand Shlomi's curiosity. On the contrary, part of my increasing boredom comes from the fact that Christians never bother to explain the meaning of their traditions, and so all I see are external things which, in themselves, aren't exciting. There are also, of course, many ways of celebrating Christmas around the world, and I am totally unfamilar with the Icelandic way.

This story about the Jew Day is really remarkable. I haven't heard of anything similar. Actually, what I find MOST irritating about the "Holiday Season" is that some Christians (obviously, not of the type who know something about Christianity) tend to think that Jewish and other non-Christian holidays are merely versions of Christian ones. I'm happy to read that this is not the case in Scandinavia. And I'm happy that you finally enjoy Christmas!

Posted by: Orly at December 11, 2005 01:31 PM Permalink

Of course I realize that not all traditions have a "meaning". Sometimes you have to be a part of a culture in order to be emotionally attached to its customs. But still you can learn to appreciate and like things in other cultures (you are a living proof).

Posted by: Orly Yahalom at December 11, 2005 01:39 PM Permalink

I didn't say I 'enjoy Christmas'! I still count the days until it's over. I was saying that I am fascinated to watch somebody's else's fascination of what I find so banal.

Posted by: Maria at December 12, 2005 10:43 AM Permalink

Hmmm okay... Too bad you don't enjoy!

Posted by: Orly at December 12, 2005 01:49 PM Permalink

Christmas- yuck. I find it quite depressing, mainly because even as a child I found it odd that our family celebrated it even though we aren't remotely Christian. So it's about getting stuff and awkward family meals where we wish we weren't forced to sit at the table together. Ho Ho HO! Out of repsect for people who actually celebrate Christmas because they are Christians, I wish those who are using it as a day to receive loot would knock it off. Besides, if you think about it, Jesus was the one who received gifts.

the Grinch

Posted by: Alice at December 13, 2005 12:46 AM Permalink

Thanks for this, it has given me something else to ponder over while celebrating the birth of a person we Christian's regard as being quite important. It's a pity it has been turned into something quite as banal as it has become - all for profit and not for the real intentions at all.

The Hanukkah lights are a nice reminder that we need to rediscover the real meaning of the celebration. May I wish you and yours a slightly less stressful holiday than I suspect most will have, and certainly a really good year ahead.

Peace be with you.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at December 22, 2005 04:12 PM Permalink