celebrations, customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, holidays

LET THERE BE LIGHT!

 

Along with the tens of thousands watching in person in NYC, I nestled in my NM comfy home recliner and saw the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I felt the same awe that was reflected in the astonished faces the moment the lights came on.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, 2017.

 

That’s what so magnificent about Winter. With its abundance of traditions igniting their special fires, we are privy to observe lighting rituals unlike our own.

First there is Diwali, the biggest and brightest of all Hindu Festivals. Diwali symbolizes the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope. This year it began on October 18 and lasted four days. Each day had its own tale, legend and myth.

 

Woman in sari next to burning Diwali lamps.

 

Beginning on December 12th, Jewish families will gather around the menorah to honor the miracle of lights. With its eight-branched menorah we commemorate the unexpected duration of burning oil that was supposed to last only one night. The holiday is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting with special prayers and fried foods.

 

Lit menorah with pastel colored candles as it would look on the 8th night. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

On December 26, African Americans will begin their observance of Kwanzaa, using their candelabrum called the Kinara (in Swahili). They light one new candle per night for seven nights to celebrate African American heritage and achievements. The holiday expresses reverence for the Creator and creation, and commemorates the past as well as recommits to cultural ideals.

 

Lit Kinara on the 7th day with black, green, and red candles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

Living here in Las Cruces, NM, one of my favorite light rituals is one that has been brought here from Mexico – the luminarias. They represent the illuminated passageway to welcome Jesus into the world. For me, the lit pathway represents my life’s journey.

 

Luminarias lighting the way to see the Christ Child as recreated in New Mexico.

Light warms us. It allows us to find our way out of darkness to inner awakening. And with our light we have the power to ignite the glow in others.

 

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine; let it shine; let it shine.

(old gospel tune)

 

And so, as we approach 2018, this is my holiday wish for you. May you take your inner light and shine it upon others.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys the rituals of all ethnicities and religions.

Visit her Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

Advertisements
celebrations, customs/rituals, folklore, parties

Q: WHEN IS A HAIRCUT NOT JUST A HAIRCUT?

 

A: WHEN A THREE-YEAR-OLD ORTHODOX JEWISH BOY GETS HIS HAIR CUT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Ari Schmukler at age 2, now one year older and ready for his first haircut. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

On March 1, 2017, Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler invited the Las Cruces Chabad Jewish community to witness and participate in the first haircut ceremony of their son, Ari. The event is called an Upshernish (shearing).

Many of you know that multicultural rites of passage, customs and beliefs delight me. And although I had written about this ceremony as observed in Israel, I had never had a first hand observer’s experience before this.

Witnessing and participating in the ceremony were Chenchie’s parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun who flew in from New York. Rabbi Bery and Chenchie’s four other children, Cherna, Mayer, Leba, Leah were the other key players enjoying the event.

Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler with her parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun with the grandchildren, Cherna (in arms), Mayer, Leba, Leah, and Ari.

 

Ari patiently sat on a chair as his father and grandfather offered words of congratulations. Then the congregation lined up to have a turn to cut a lock of Ari’s hair.

 

 

Ari Schmukler patiently sitting while a congregant cuts a lock of his hair. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

After cutting a lock of hair, the person placed it in a plastic container and then deposited a quarter in the yellow Tsedaka (charity) container. Eventually, most of the hair was cut except for the peot (side locks).

 

The yellow tsedaka container. Here hair cutters deposit quarters for charity. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Chenchie is a fantastic party organizer. She made cookies in the shape of scissors, in the shape of the aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the first letter of Ari’s name. She created a donut wall where the children happily removed the donuts and provided a colorful and abundant feast for all in attendance.

Cookies in the shapes of the aleph, scissors, and the numeral three. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

The 3rd birthday haircutting ceremony announces the beginning of the child’s Jewish education. He now wears a kippah or yarmulke (skull cap) and tzizit (fringed undergarment). An easel held the Hebrew alphabet that had drops of honey dabbed on it emphasizing the sweetness of learning. Overall, the celebration stresses the importance of charity and the responsibility of learning.

The Hebrew alphabet to demonstrate that Ari will now begin his Jewish education. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There is a rationale for having this ceremony at age three. The child becomes analogous to a tree that is prohibited from being cut until it is three, lest the fruit be underdeveloped. But if the tree is left untouched for three years, the fruit becomes sweet. Humans, too, should not be touched for the first three years. After that, they are ready to move on to the next stage of life.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is not an Orthodox Jew. However, sensing that her son’s first haircut was significant, she took him to her maternal grandfather, Jacob Friesh, who had been a barber in England. He proudly gave Mark, his first great-grandson, the first haircut.

customs/rituals, death, death rituals

How Do We Remember?

Harold working as an extra in a Pepsi ad with a chimp. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Harold Dresser with a chimp, working as an extra in a Pepsi ad, mid-1990s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My husband, Harold Dresser, died on February 2, 2007. For the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to commemorate the occasion in a special way.

I had his name and death date engraved on a gold plated marker that hangs on a Memorial Wall inside the Alevy Chabad Center, an Orthodox Jewish place of worship here in Las Cruces. On the date of his death, the light adjacent to his name will burn brightly. Then for the rest of the month the light will merely flicker.

Recently, when I went to see the marker for the first time, the rabbi kindly turned on the light so that I could take a photo to send to my non-local offspring. Harold’s name alone stirred sorrow within me, but with the adjacent glowing light, the sadness intensified.

Harold's memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Harold’s memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There are many ways to remember a deceased loved one. In Cruces, I often see memorial car rear windshields as exemplified below.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Commonly, fatal auto wrecks are commemorated with floral displays and crosses at the site of the carnage.

090126 - Kennesaw - Friends and fellow students of Garrett Reed, 16 gathered at the scene of roadside memorial Monday morning, January 26, 2009 at Sylvia Drive and Midway Road where he died early Sunday morning. Drive and hit another car about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Cobb County police Sgt. Dana Pierce said. Reed died at the scene. The other driver, Richard Reyes, 25, of Dallas, was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in stable condition, Pierce said. The wreck happened less than a mile from Harrison High School, where Reed was a junior wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. Reed was the second Harrison athlete to be killed in a wreck in recent years. Luke Abbate, a junior on the school's lacrosse team, was killed, and four of his teammates injured, in a February, 2006 crash. The funeral for Reed will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Visitation is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at West Cobb Funeral Home. jspink@ajc.com

Back to the Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle (Yahrzeit candle)  that burns for 24 hours marking the death date. But with my night prowler cat, Sweetie Beattie, it is dangerous having an unattended burning candle while I sleep, so I have switched to an electric one that does the job safely.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

What are the ways in which you memorialize a deceased loved one? I would like to know and share the information with others.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist feeling sad at this time of the year.

cats, customs/rituals, Dogs, pets

How Far Do You Go?

I’m referring to pampering your pets. I am certainly guilty. My daughter even accuses me of spoiling my cat, Sweetie Beattie, just because I give in to her finicky eating habits.

One indulgent act I am certain I would never take. I would never have plastic testicles implanted in my neutered dog, no matter how beloved he might be. Obviously, inventor, Gregg Miller disagrees. He came up with the idea for implanted testicles after his bloodhound, Buck, began to clean himself following castration. According to Miller, the dog acted extremely depressed. However, after the implants, Buck happily resumed his old cleaning habits because they replicated the weight and feel of his natural testicles.

Bumper Sticker. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Bumper Sticker. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Miller’s invention of Neuticles has been a huge success, with over 500,000 neuticles implanted since 1995 in the U.S. as well as in 49 other countries. Miller even won the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine, a parody of the real Nobel Prize. I would love to have heard THAT acceptance speech.

Package of neuticles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Package of neuticles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

There seems to be few boundaries for what we won’t do for our animals. I know of other pet owners who regularly inject their diabetic cats with insulin; some who travel out of state to visit veterinarian specialists. Then there is the Colorado couple whose Samoyed needed dialysis with each round costing $1,300. After they were over $25,000 in debt, they established a GoFundMe account to solicit additional funds.

My friend, Marilyn, had a cat, Blossom Dearie, named after the famed jazz singer. Unfortunately, Blossom developed hyperthyroidism and had to be treated with radioactive iodine. As a result, Marilyn had to collect the cat’s feces and deposit them in a hazardous-material container.

And in Australia, as recently as September 14, 2016, a woman rushed her pet goldfish, “Conquer” to the vet. The observant owner had noticed that her fish had stopped eating, and that’s when she realized that Conquer had swallowed a pebble from the bottom of the fish tank. The small stone had gotten stuck in its mouth..

By using anesthesia and a tiny instrument, the vets extracted the jagged rock. The procedure was successful, and Conquer happily returned home to its own fish bowl. The veterinary bill for this life-saving procedure? $500.

Here in Las Cruces, musician, Ross Le Comte and his wife, Alta, had to have their elderly dog, Ace, put down. As the veterinarian administered the first injection, Ross picked up his trumpet and played, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a tune that Ace loved to sing along with Ross on trumpet in a nightly musical ritual.

As Ross tearfully recalled, a few days later, when he and his wife glanced out the back window, they spied a rainbow and said,  “There’s Ace. Everything is Okay.”

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser cherishes her current feline companion but draws the line at extreme measures.

Sharing nap time with Sweetie Beattie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Sharing nap time with Sweetie Beattie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
customs/rituals, folklore

BREAKING NEWS…Tooth Fairy Rates Soar!

I love the Tooth Fairy. Maybe it’s because in my Jewish household, we had no other mythical visitors like Santa and the Easter Bunny. Tooth Fairy visits were something I could enjoy and share with all my classmates.

Dentist, Suzanne Wenzlaff, in her Tooth Fairy garb, preparing to march in the Hollywood Christmas parade. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Dentist, Suzanne Wenzlaff, in her Tooth Fairy garb, preparing to march in the Hollywood Boulevard annual Christmas parade. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

And what a delightful discovery occurred when I learned that one of my neighbors, Suzanne Wenzlaff, DDS, portrayed the Tooth Fairy in the much heralded Hollywood Boulevard annual Christmas parade.

As a child, it thrilled me when a baby tooth fell out. With great anticipation, I placed it under my pillow at night and when I found a shiny dime in its place the next morning, I could hardly wait to spend it.

My own children received a quarter per tooth, so I wondered about the going rate in 2015. I asked my lovely great-grand niece, Brin Pime, how much money the Tooth Fairy left for her two young daughters. “One dollar per tooth,”Brin answered, adding that she often dusted the bills with sparkly eye shadow. What a charming idea.

When I asked Brin what other parents gave, I was astounded to learn that for one of her acquaintances the going rate was $20 per tooth because the parents were caught with only $20 bills in their wallet. Wow! Has inflation hit what was once an affordable tradition?

As a folklorist, I am asked, “Where did this tradition come from?” And like so many customs, it is hard to ascertain their origins. However, the Tooth Fairy seems to flourish in English-speaking countries, like the US, Canada, and Australia.

In Spain, the child tucks the tooth under her pillow, and while she sleeps, Ratoncito Perez (a small mouse) takes the tooth and leaves money or candy. In many other cultures, too, the one who takes the tooth is a rat or a mouse, no doubt in the hopes of emulating their strong sharp teeth. Other variations include throwing a lower tooth on the roof and upper tooth under the bed.

Of course, if you Google the Tooth Fairy, you will find related objects for sale, for example, kits, books, and objects for storing the teeth. Unfortunately, she has been commercialized. Here are a few tooth fairy containers that I have in my folklore collection.

Tooth Fairy containers where children store their fallen teeth before exchanging them for monetary rewards. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Tooth Fairy containers where children store their fallen teeth before exchanging them for monetary rewards. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

I find it heartening that in this high tech obsessed world of ubiquitous cellphones and lap tops, something so low tech as the Tooth Fairy still prevails. Long May She Reign!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is encouraged that the Tooth Fairy is still an important part of childhood.

ADDENDUM

My friend, Roxana, sent me this letter that appeared on her Facebook page:

Tooth Fairy Ultimatum. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Tooth Fairy Ultimatum. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

I don’t like the idea of a Tooth Fairy with conditions. Do you?