It’s never too early (or too late) for a festival
I didn’t realise until way too late that Chanukah is very early this year. It falls in November, which isn’t just early, but also enormously confusing given that lighting candles on a school night isn’t something that South Africans are used to.
We have become accustomed to Easter and Passover overlapping, of Heritage Day and Sukkot being intertwined, but I have no recollection of Chanukah and Black Friday ever being celebrated on the same weekend. And if I thought that maybe it was a sign, I’m certain it was not.
It’s no surprise that Jews have a poor reputation for punctuality. The concept of “Jewish time” has been around since the first Jewish school held its first PTA fundraiser. It should be obvious, considering that our festivals never fall when they are meant to. We often hear that “Pesach is early this year”. Or “Pesach is really late.” But never have we heard it said that it will be arriving smack on time. Because it never does. It’s crazy early. Or weirdly late, which makes me wonder if anyone actually knows when it’s actually meant to be.
Festivals are always on the weekend, which is too terrible. Or during the week, which is a disaster. Or it’s a three-day marathon because of Shabbat, which is impossible, or it’s two days, but with one day between Shabbat and the festival, which makes it ridiculous.
Never in the history of observance have festivals fallen on the right days at the right time, neither too early nor too late and in the right season. Because as we can attest, they’re invariably too hot, or too cold or it needs to rain when we want it to be dry. Or it’s too dry and dusty when we want showers.
Non-Jewish holidays, much like men, seem to be particularly uncomplicated. New Year’s Day by way of example, cannot fall on any day other than January the 1st. It is always in summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the north. All which makes planning convenient but does limit conversation. It makes me wonder what it is they talk about?
I’m not making this up, but one of our guests this past Shabbat actually slapped his frustrated hand on the table and said, “You are not going to believe this, but Tish B’Av is on a Sunday again next year!”
Considering that the fast isn’t scheduled until August in 2022 (it’s late next year), I thought that others at the table would give him a short sharp smack to the back of his head and tell him that he is completely mad to be worrying about something that is still 10 months away when we might well be dead.
Instead, others at the table were quick to share his outrage and vocalised the horror of it all. And being a reasonable host, I too joined in. Especially because Sunday is the worst day for a fast.
It’s often said that it’s Shabbat or perhaps antisemitism that has ensured that Jews have continued to survive against all odds. I have a different theory. And when I heard how early Chanukah falls this year, I realised that it’s not either of the commonly accepted reasons that has kept us around.
Rather, it’s the fact that we need to be constantly engaged and alerted to the fact that one of our festivals might well be happening, either early or late, on a Shabbat or a week day, but certainly, just when we least expect them to.