Sukkot, the most aesthetic, welcoming and creative Jewish holiday, is my seven day antidote to Christmas envy.
Michael Ross | Dreamstime.com
I have a confession.
While most observant Jews spend this time every year shopping for the four species – carefully inspecting the etrog’s texture and building Sukkah walls – I do my own careful sifting…through online Christmas light listings. I order the most brilliant lights for the ultimate Sukkah ambience. Yes, I am a bit of a Christmas light connoisseur.
You see, as a Jewish kid living in suburban Maryland, around Christmas time each year I’d drive by houses decked in the warm glow of Christmas lights, shimmering on crisp winter nights. Something about those twinkling lights drew me, and I felt like an outsider looking in. I’d wonder who lived in those houses and what their holiday looked like.Illustrative: Spectators view an elaborately decorated home for the holidays in Brooklyn, New York. Dec. 4, 2012 (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
The warm lights felt so… well… haimish. When I’d look at the melting candles of my humble Menorah, something about the understatement just didn’t do it for me. So began my very Jewish love of Christmas lights.
Naturally, being a proud Jewish family, we would never dream of having a Christmas tree or putting up blatantly Christian ornaments.
And so my Sukkot loophole came to be. Sukkot, in my view, is the most aesthetic, welcoming and creative Jewish holiday. It is the yearly pinnacle of my Jewish observance, and I take no shortcuts. For one week, you recreate an outdoor home, however you envision it. You can paint the walls, deck bamboo with multi-colored shiny decorations, cut out chains and pomegranates, sing kumbaya with neighbors…and relish in string lights. Lots of them. Of all shapes and sizes. We take holiday decor to a new level: we don’t just decorate a tree; we build incandescent shacks.
Sukkot is my seven day antidote to Christmas envy.
When I adorn that hut with string lights, I think back to those warm winter memories. I am no longer an outsider looking in, but an insider looking out, unbearably eager to welcome in guests and bask in the light. The Sukkah is built for hosting and sharing. As I sit back in a radiant bamboo shack on these warm summer nights I could burst with haimish holiday joy.
On a deeper level, every time I put up those lights, the act—from beginning to end—is filled with Jewish intent and pride. It is an act of taking a foreign object and elevating it to the center of a Mitzvah. It is, in fact, the ultimate Hiddur Mitzvah (beautification of the holiday) and fulfillment of Judaism’s fundamental tenets: elevating an object to its highest spiritual potential.
There is no doubt in my mind that our forefathers will be tripping over themselves to be this year’s ushpizin in my light-filled Sukkah.
And with that, amidst a crazy, upside-down world, I wish you a very merry (and leibedik) Sukkot.