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I have a very low-stakes question with a very serious reason behind it. Last year during an end-of-holiday season sale, I purchased a cheesy, showy, ridiculous Hanukkah outfit, which I planned to debut at my friend’s annual ugly sweater party this year. With everything going on in the world, I’m not sure this is the year to make a big Hanukkah splash, and I’m considering not wearing it. What do you think?
Not Exactly Hiding Hanukkah, But…
Considering the minor role that Hanukkah plays in the Jewish calendar, there are a remarkable number of angles one could take in facing the holiday, not just this year but really every year. Hanukkah is about light and love, fried foods and miracles, and bringing joy into the darkness. It’s also about a military victory over our oppressors and a rededication to Jewish life in the midst of a world that sought to crush Jewish expression. It’s not an easy year to make light of the holiday (see what I did there), but it’s not really an easy year for anything, is it?
There is no wrong answer about your outfit. If it’s more than just a sweater (I’m picturing a blue and silver light-up three-piece suit, for the record), maybe you could wear one piece of it to the party but not all three. Maybe you can wear part of it paired with a more subdued blazer or cardigan, or find some other way to temper how over the top it is. Maybe you wear the whole thing and bring a change of clothes just in case you feel you need it or to put on before you go to the after party at a bar. If at all possible, you should make the decision based on your comfort level rather than your anticipation of your friends’ comfort levels. And, if you feel there is any real danger to you at this party, you should tell your friend so the host can be on alert and offer you the appropriate support, or so that you can explain your absence at the party.
If you do attend, which I hope you’re able to, you should also be prepared with a party-appropriate stock answer if anyone wants to confront you. You can say something about Jewish joy, or “looking forward to wearing this all year,” or “nice to see you too where’s the beer?” As is my typical advice, unless someone is a truly close friend and you know you won’t ruin the party, do not engage in politics or war. If God forbid, things escalate, do call out blatant antisemitism, Islamophobia, or other hate speech.
You’re allowed to be happy and flaunt your outfit, your love of latkes, your belief in miracles, and your best rendition of your favorite Maccabeats song. You’re also allowed to be uncomfortable with being loudly and publicly Jewish in this context, concerned about the potential for antisemitism, subdued about big celebrations, and sad for the state of the world. Maybe this party and this outfit can allow for both realities, in which case, please go and enjoy. Maybe it can’t, in which case, I’m sorry, and I see you and I feel for you.
Regardless of this party and this outfit, I hope you find other ways to celebrate this coming week. Go to a synagogue or community group’s Hanukkah party where your outfit will be appreciated full stop without concern or caveats. Invite friends over for candle lighting in your home to celebrate together on your turf without holding back. Reach out to friends and family near and far to let them know you’re thinking of them. Take pictures of yourself in the outfit so you remember this moment, and hope that when you wear it in future years, you can feel less complicated. But overall, don’t let your fear dim the light of what Hanukkah can offer, however you choose to look at it.