Wilton Warrior Words: Takeaways from the holidays

Justin Rosenthal

Justin Rosenthal

Hearst Connecticut Media

The holiday season has finally arrived, and with it comes hot cocoa, fuzzy blankets, and last-minute shopping. There’s something whimsical about the holiday season, string lights illuminating neighborhoods, festive music faintly playing in shops, and glistening snow blanketing roofs and roads alike. Although most of this holiday merriment is associated with Christmas, my house, at the very least, is filled with Hanukkah spirit: a menorah, covered in dried candle wax of all colors, finally emerges from a cabinet; an endless supply of dreidels spills onto all the counters in our kitchen; and even a Mensch on the Bench -- a Hanukkah version of the timeless Elf on the Shelf -- comes out of hiding. These objects may not be the most extraordinary of things, but, to me, they are what makes winter winter.

The game of dreidel, in particular, has developed such a significant meaning to me. Over the years, I’ve found that it has an incredible way of uniting people. For example, though my cousins are generally much older than my sister and me, we still all sit in a circle on the floor each Hanukkah and play dreidel. We may not always know what we’re doing, but that only adds to the experience, laughter erupting throughout the room as we watch the spinning dreidels whirl for a few glorious seconds before comically falling over. I personally believe that the goofy, chaotic moments like these are far more valuable than the picture-perfect ones, the memories containing so much distinct character.

Last year, I had the opportunity to introduce the game of dreidel to a few of my friends, and that was such a phenomenal experience. Throughout all of my life, I’ve been accustomed to others knowing very little about the Jewish holidays, and so being able to finally share part of my culture with my friends was very exciting. This particular game of dreidel was even more chaotic than the ones I usually play with my family, all of us chucking chocolate gelt at each other as I struggled to fight through my everlasting laughter to explain what each of the four Hebrew letters on the dreidel meant. It was quite disastrous, gelt flying through the air as spinning dreidels skated recklessly around the room. And, if I’m being honest, it was perfect that way. Even if we didn’t necessarily play dreidel “correctly,” we still were able to experience the holiday joy I associate with this game, and that is what matters most to me.

I would love to someday be able to experience the holiday traditions of other people, regardless of whether they are cultural customs or simply family traditions. Being able to share one of my holiday traditions with my friends for the first time genuinely made me happy, and I’m sure that others would feel the same if they, too, could do this. When I was younger, I felt as though the holiday season was primarily about receiving gifts, but I now recognize the value of the smaller, less noticeable things that people often take for granted. I can now appreciate the wax-stained menorah with which I have grown up, the Mensch on the Bench that still admittedly creeps me out a little bit, and, most importantly, the abundance of dreidels that always manages to take over my house during the winter season. When I think about winter, it really isn’t Hanukkah or the holidays I imagine; it’s the small but invaluable traditions associated with the two that come to mind. These are the memories that never fail to wrap around me like a cozy blanket and warm my heart.

Justin Rosenthal is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with three classmates.