Candle Lighting, Ice-Skating & Honouring Thy Mother And Father

A painted chanukkiah on my window

A painted chanukkiah on my window

Tonight is the first night of Chanukkah (Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukah..whatever.. you know.. the Jewish holiday.. חנוכה), and thus time to light the first candle. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukkah candles states that one should not only light them, but that one should publicise the miracle of Chanukkah, thus it is customary to place your chanukkiah on the windowsill so that it can be seen by people walking past. Now, I would love to do that, but unfortunately where I live there are no windowsills, so I can’t do that.

Wanting to still fulfil the commandment, I did the next best thing; I painted a chanukkiah on my window. This is something I get from my mother, who used to paint advent candles on our kitchen window every year, “lighting” another candle each Sunday in the lead-up to Christmas. So, choosing to publicise my chanukkiah in this way feels doubly good, because it can also be seen as a way of honouring my mother. And that matters to me, not only because it’s a commandment, but because it is so easy to, when thinking back to my childhood, focus on all the things that were less than ideal. As much as there were a lot of things that were not right, there were also many things that were really good. Happy memories, which need also be allowed space in my heart.

Another happy memory came to life for me a few weeks ago, when I – for the first time in ten years – went ice-skating. Prior to going, and in spite of having not skated for such a long time, I was thinking How hard can it be? Growing up in the very north of Sweden, I got my first skates when I was something like two and a half, and I’ve been skating reasonably regularly every winter all the way up until I moved to London ten years ago and took on the shape and size of a baby whale.

Baby whale attributes aside, I really didn’t think skating would be a problem. Bit like riding a bike, right? Wrong! I stepped onto the ice and for the first time ever I felt aware that there was a chance I could fall. I mean, I was properly scared. I was like Bambi on ice, only less graceful. It was like learning to walk again. And yet, as surprising as this was, there was something else that also hit me straight in the chest, and that was an utter sense of freedom, of happiness. I felt like a child again, like the kid I used to be, when things were good.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my last few sessions with A., exploring this, because I genuinely can’t remember the last time I felt so free and happy. The closest thing to it is when I write or paint, but this was way more than that. It brought back the memory of going skating with my family as a kid. Either my mother or my father would take my brothers and I down to the rink, and it was the best thing ever. Often we’d go to one of the many outdoor rinks which most schools in my home town had at the time. These were rinks that hadn’t been Zambonied to perfection, rather, it wasn’t unusual for us to get to the rink and find it completely snow covered. So – as a family – we would have to clear the rink before we could even begin skating. It would be pitch dark all around us, even if it might not be late at all, only the floodlights at the rink cutting through the darkness, making me feel as if the only thing that existed was my family and I, and the sheer joy of speeding across the ice.

Happy memory trigger

My Beloved Skates
Happy Memory Trigger

Being back on the ice again brought all of this back to me. I remember how my father would have us do ten laps clockwise and then another ten counter-clockwise as a warm up, before we were allowed to free-skate, and how we kids would do it without questioning him, despite the fact that my father happens to be possibly the worst skater in the history of ever. It was, as I explained to A. in session, special – because – growing up I didn’t have very many rules given to me by my parents, and this, well, it allowed me to be the kid, rather than the responsible little person I had to be at most other times. Another ice-skating memory that came flooding back is from when I was really little, back when I was only just able to stand on the ice in my skates, and my mother would hold my hands to support me. It may seem like a very small thing, in the grander scheme of things, but – as I said to A. – it must be important, because I remember it. I have a million memories of worrying about my mother, feeling like I was the adult, and plenty others where the child/adult boundaries were blurred, to say the least, and this – in contrast – was a situation where my mother was unquestionably the adult, and all I had to do was to be a child, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t let me fall.

So, as I light my Chanukkah candles this year, at the very darkest time of the year, I am challenging myself to remember the brightest, happiest memories.

Happy Chanukkah!

xx

PS. Just in case you didn’t know, the Holiday armadillo – as introduced in Friends – is a myth. The Chanukkah GECKO, on the other hand, is clearly real. See photographic evidence below.

Chanukkah 5773 - Day 1 The ACTUAL chanukkiah

Chanukkah 5773 – Day 1
The ACTUAL chanukkiah
..and the very real Chanukkah gecko..

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Being Wrong & Self-Elected Madness

No one likes to be wrong, right? Wrong.
Right now I’m ecstatic to have been proven wrong. As it turns out snowballs do have a chance in hell; Sweden just knocked the Czech Republic out of the Ice-Hockey World Championships and claimed their place in the battle for gold on Sunday evening. Can’t wait! Go Tre Kronor!

Later tonight Finland and Russia go head to head over the other slot for the final. I’m rooting for Finland in this game. I probably shouldn’t, because Sweden-Finland games tend to be very hard on the old ticker. Lots of history there. But – the games are usually well worth watching. Maybe we should strike a deal with the Fins if they make it to the final; if they let us win the ice-hockey they can win the Eurovision Song Contest.

All this ice-hockey excitement aside, there is something to be said about sport on an international level. It boosts our national pride and strengthens our national identity: we get together and celebrate or commiserate. We’re united, a team. And in a world where we are becoming more and more detached, where even our next-door-neighbours are often faceless strangers, this is not to be underestimated.

Also, sport is an excellent opportunity to express emotions. To let both victorious jubilation and devastating disappointment out, to let it show on the outside, to not hold back. Complete and utter release. It’s good stuff!

So, to those of you who don’t see the point in playing or watching sport, it’s actually a pretty healthy thing to engage in. There’s even been books written about the psychology of it all. More than one, in fact. One which I particularly liked was Football Delirium by psychoanalyst Chris Oakley in which he argues that football offers us the possibility of manageable doses of self-elected madness. This guy gets sport. He is also self-electedly mad. In a good way.

Whether you’re into sport or not, I’d recommend it:

Anyway, soon be time for face-off in the second ice-hockey semi-final of the day, and I need to do some manic last minute pre-Shabbat prep. As much as I love ice-hockey, Shabbat comes first.

That’s just the way I roll.

Be good to yourselves,

xx

Snowball’s Chance In Hell

I’m one of those people who don’t often swear. Sure the odd “For eff’s sake!” might slip out, in general directed at myself for having been clumsy or having made a silly mistake of some sort. But, on the whole, I’m not really known for effing and blinding. In fact, at my old workplace my entire team would stand up and applaud whenever an actual profanity crossed my lips.

But..that’s the Everyday Me, in everyday situations.

Then there’s Ice-Hockey Me.
This is where all of a sudden, swept away by my passion for whichever team I happen to be rooting for in a game, I completely let go of my manners and some pretty shocking phrases get bandied around. There’s an audio-recording from a few years back of me watching a game between Canada and the Czech Republic where I can be heard suddenly shouting “Satans JÄVLA tjecker!!” [Google if you feel a translation necessary]. Being so completely and utterly out of character for me in any other situation, this phrase has naturally stuck with friends and family, and so these days, whenever the Czech Republic is playing they’ll be affectionately referred to as the “satans jävla tjeckerna”.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about ice-hockey that brings out this side of me. I like watching sports in general, but I rarely fire off such heated verbal bullets when watching figure skating or Formula 1. [Although, I do tend to shout a lot of “You idiot!”s at the telly when watching the latter – but that’s more often than not directed at the commentators who seem to be perpetually trailing three laps in their commentary.]

As the Ice-Hockey World Championships are on at the moment it’s really reminded me how much I love this sport. I love everything about it, the pace, the physicality, the fight for every puck. Indeed, one of my favourite sounds in the world is the sound of a player being tackled into the boards. It may seem cruel, but it is SUCH a great sound. It really is!

Tre Kronor, the name given to the Swedish national ice-hockey team, has a pretty fine record as far as the World Championships are concerned. In the 80 years the World Championships have been played, Tre Kronor has ended up with a gold, silver or bronze medal 39 times. Pretty remarkable when you consider the size and population of our little kingdom. It becomes even more impressive when you compare it to the other great hockey nations; Canada, USA and Russia/USSR, who’ve got millions more potential raw talents to pick from.

My tiny little home town has produced a number of very successful NHL players over the years, and although boasting is viewed as a serious offence where I’m from, that’s really not bad.

Needless to say ice-hockey is BIG back home. It’s our national sport, and so when Tre Kronor wins we go all out to celebrate. When we lose, well – let’s not go there..

This year Sweden has not done all that well. We’ve scraped through, and somehow made it through to the semi-finals, but to say we’ve done it in style would be a undeniable stretching of the truth. It’s been more skin-of-our-teeth stuff, really. I mean, we lost to Norway, for crying out loud!

That said, we are in the semi-finals, and so the hope of coming home with gold medals round our necks is still alive. We could still win.

Except……

……we’re playing the satans jävla tjeckerna……

Snowball’s chance in hell!
I’m just saying..

xx

PS. No, I don’t really hate Czechs. Of course I don’t. I’ve even watched ice-hockey with Czech friends. :)