This Time of Year

There’s a fun little calendar on the window sill. Its colourful flip pages track not only day of the week, month, date, and year, but also weather, season, and moon phase, which makes more sense when you consider that the day of the week and month are in Hebrew. I purchased this calendar at an art museum in Israel many years ago and it has travelled around the world with me. Before that, it sat on my desk when I taught at Catholic school. When an astounded student asked, “You can read that?” I had to clarify that Hebrew and hieroglyphics are not the same thing and my choice of the falling leaves picture (rather than sleeping forest animals, for instance) simply meant that leaves were falling.

Neither the illustrations of falling leaves nor sleeping animals have been used in quite some time. Seasons are far more subtle on the equator, signified by a shift in wind that changes the texture of the air and how it feels on the skin. There might be more or less rain, but that’s about it.

As I write this, I’ve flipped the weather image to “partly sunny”; we’ve been at “cloudy” for days. It is nice to watch the world change.

Last night, the air smelled like winter. Fresh, clean, sharp, coming down from high places rather than emanating from the ground like summer air. I could smell the grass when I first arrived here in July, and to say that I could not get over it is both silly and the truth.

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, which I always think of, incorrectly, as a winter holiday. The lunar calendar shifts, after all. Chanukah commemorates the destruction of Jewish communities by the Greeks and the efforts made by groups of rebels to protect themselves and their Holy Temple. A tiny jar of oil burned for eight days, the story says, and we light candles for eight days in commemoration. Traditionally, there are delicious fried foods and a game that uses a spinning top called a dreidel in Yiddish. The only dreidel I currently have is a decorative one that I received as a Bat Mitzvah gift a shocking number of years ago. It hangs, as it always has, year-round in front of a window. My menorah (more accurately, chanukiah) was a Bat Mitzvah gift, too.

This brings me back to the calendar. My Bat Mitzvah, my coming of age in the eyes of the Jewish community, fell on the second night of Chanukah and also on American Thanksgiving weekend. It snowed that night.

We have snow in the forecast this week, as well, but right now we have a sunny morning. The sun came out in full force yesterday afternoon, and suddenly the world looked a little bit bigger. We were no longer huddled under a cloud. Yesterday, I was out in the rain to mail a stack of postcards and commented about the weather in all of them. I knew how easy it was to live on the equator, and I thought about it every time I ran out of the house in sandals and a tank top late in the evening because I suddenly decided I wanted a specific vegetable for dinner, but I didn’t remember how many actions were required to do the same when it’s dark in the middle of the afternoon and only getting colder.

I do think Chanukah comes at a good time of year. My consumption of fried foods will be limited, but I am looking forward to the glow from the candles. It feels different in a cold place.

May this time of year, with all of it festivals, traditions, rituals, and holidays, be a peaceful time for all. Chag sameach!

Weimar, Germany – November 2021

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