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Floating Holiday

On a friend’s couch in September one woman raised her voice to match the ire at scheduling, or lack thereof, around Jewish High Holidays combined with her employer’s resistance to taking time off. “That, is what my Floating Holidays are for.” She slumped back into the low couch to punctuate the statement.

I sat up a little straighter. “That is what Floating Holidays are for.” I had never thought about it. They were just extra days, had been extra codes on time sheets, and now were the days to take first because they didn’t roll over like vacation days did. In this woman’s voice who I had just met, they were more than that, and now somehow less, a kind of payoff for a world created around a ‘we’ that didn’t include ‘me’.

The first time my holidays floated was when I joined Peace Corps and I was provided with extra days, holidays that had never been my days. Semana Santa, Día del Ejercito, Fería. My days, from the old days, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, they floated away. Upon returning from Guatemala, the clouds cleared and somehow the days practiced in all lives and identities evaporated, until this year. This year Floating Holidays billow and float and sweep and gather. Traditions practiced in new ways. Unpracticed days filled with new traditions.

Chanukah, oh Chanukah

Come light my menorah.

The only thing I knew about December 12, Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, was the Peace Corps memory of Don Ramos buying his grandchildren cake. The route I take to the church is simpler than the online directions. I know the roads but not the distance between them. I worry I missed the turn, but it comes at the brightest of stoplights. The church is easier to see, sweeping and lit and packed with cars. I drive by the parking lot and turn into the next driveway in the same moment I see the “Wrong Way” sign. It’s two lanes, and I have no choice. I’ll turn around, I promise, if it is really a wrong way. The drive along the cemetery becomes the school parking lot. Others find this open space too, from the right way. The way they know.

“I’m glad you used the back way,” a voice says as I step through the gated school hallway.

Chanukah, oh Chanukah.

Come light my menorah.

I finally submit to the reality that I have to buy my candles online at Amazon.

As a result, I click on the option to pay for shipping for the first time in years.

In the church atrium I find flowers to buy, but I brought no money. I see a table with leaflets. From my limited experience accompanying my father to church, I assume it is the order of readings and hymns to be included in the mass. I slide a copy from the pile into my hand and find a seat. I breathe in the scent of roses and new clothes. Some are guipiles. Could I, should I have worn mine? Not in this context, with those who don’t know why I own, why I am connected to those threads. Here, we don’t have them in common.

Let’s have a party and all dance the horah.

Since I’m buying things, I add a sheet of stickers I can adhere to the bottoms of hot chocolate Hershey’s kisses. They are the only flavor not tinted in Christmas red and green.

The air is light and bright with violin string and brass notes. Jesus hangs from the cross. Above his head are letters, three sets of letters. The bottom row I recognize, Hebrew. Normally an unwelcome connection, here it is comforting. I strain to read the text, but it’s so far away. The lines blur, and there are no vowels. The connection is not so strong that the language is as embedded in me as the wood. I need the vowels.

Gather ‘round the table. It’s time for a treat.

Dreidels to play with and candy to eat.

Candy is what I bring to the party.

It’s soon evident, the paper means little. At times words match, at times phrases move from mouths to ears to written word, but not often enough for me to follow along. The same is true of the songs. I understand the message that repeats. I could mimic, but like the guipil, I don’t want to wear faith I don’t belong to either.

I decide to bring homemade applesauce to balance out the candy.

I enjoy the added post to the invitation asking us to bring coins to play with.

Real coins to be donated after.

The priest holds the holy text up to the faces. They’re lighter skinned, all of them, than I remember my Guatemalan friends. He speaks. He reads. I squint again even though it’s my ears that struggle. His accent is difficult. He is missing vowels as well. Perhaps the Spanish speakers here are used to his shortcoming. Or, perhaps, they know the words so well, they are retelling the scripture to themselves without his guidance.

Latkes and matzo ball soup taste like family living and remembered.

I wasn’t hungry,

But I craved the flavors on my tongue.

“Are you shy?” one host asks. Later, “Are you having a good time?”

I find a place at the dessert table watching children learn to play dreidel.

Before the service started, the woman who invited me spoke brief instructions. The final was a reminder to be good hosts, but I find it hard to demonstrate how I am a good guest. I didn’t even remember to bring a donation for the collection. I tuck my hands in towards my lap. Still, the final prayer is one for the world. The “unheard and ignored”. The final prayer is silent “intentions in the heart”. I nod and so for a moment bow my head. With sincerity.

When the service ends, I quietly return the way I came, slipping quickly out the back. At least this time when I turn onto the solitary drive, I am not driving the wrong way.

And while we are dancing,

The candles are burning low.

There was no dancing, but there was singing.

Additional verses to songs I know

Combined with some I never knew.

The next week, I drive to a well-known place that hosts an unknown holiday to me, Las Posadas. I go because I am invited. I invite a coworker because I want to invite. I learn about the seven points of a piñata, eat tamales that taste like chuchitos and ponche that holds a hint of my favorite hot Christmas Eve drink. Well trained, I bring my thermos so as not to repeat the tradition of a Styrofoam cup. The sweet bread I carry home and present to Solo’s nose.

“Do you, can you, remember Guatemala?” I ask.

He nuzzles my palm and sorts through the bread pieces until it is only crumbs. Maybe that’s a yes.

One for each night. For they shed a sweet light.

To remind us of days long ago.

Long ago, and not so long ago,

In scents and spices that linger on my fingers.

One for each night. For they shed a sweet light.

I know I will be late for Christmas Eve even before I leave the gym. I knew I would be late days before when I realized the gym was open. I went anyway.

I knew I would have to leave early when I confirmed my Hebrew class. I left Christmas Eve lunch without even saying goodbye, but I knew they wouldn’t miss me. The conversation in Hebrew was better although the topics were about the same. “What do you do?” and even “What is your name?” Can you believe, “who is in your family?” Christmas Eves came and went few and far between. The best part wasn’t the meal but what the dish I brought to share.

“This is so good. Pistachio. And almond?”

“No,” I shake my head. “Pineapple. Cool Whip.”

Both cousins take another bite.

“I went to a cookbook book club and someone made this. When I tasted it, it reminded me of what Grandma used to make, and apparently only I missed.”

“Ha, the green stuff. We used to dare each other to eat the green stuff.” She laughs and taps her plastic fork.

“I loved those salads. They just disappeared from Christmas.” And, no one cared but me.

Each year at this time, I feel a little bit like I disappear from Christmas, but maybe that would require me to have fit in, in the first place.

I leave early to get to Hebrew class.

To remind us of days long ago.

The candy was hardly touched.

The applesauce jar never opened.

I leave both behind. One last attempt at etiquette, and its relative, belonging.

Eight nights of sunset and lit windows, and now it’s the sparkle of New Year’s Eve that looms. After I ordered my candles from Amazon, I worried they would not arrive in time. Instead, I lit candles twice. First, at the party. Second, at my home. It seemed my menorah deserved a complete holiday. Tonight, on the last night, I pick through the box’s bottom, scraping for the broken candle. Set into each wax lined placeholder, they’re a mismatched family. But, if they’re too broken, I know any candle will do, as it did before. Holidays float.

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