Community Holiday Crafting

I’ve spent the past few years embracing holiday crafting with my family. I’ve written a lot about our traditions on this blog (see “Permission to Play: Holiday Crafting Edition, “Our Craftiest Christmas to Date,” “Handmade Holidays: The Next Generation,”Holiday Crafting with Teens,” and “Holiday Crafting with PreSchooler (and Glitter!)

This year, my attention’s been turned outward. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, I’ve found myself crafting with the community more than my kin.

I attended a stitch ‘n bitch session at Wholly Craft, a handmade gift shop hosted by a local organization that supports women’s reproductive choice – Women Have Options. Ohio legislators recently passed measures to outlaw abortions past 20 weeks of conception. Women, and supportive men, throughout our state are enraged and looking for ways to move on and prepare for the challenges ahead. I attended “Felt and Feminism” to connect with women actively working to protect women and our reproductive options and make some fem-inspired XMas ornaments.

This past Sunday, I hosted a Chanukah Menorah making session as a follow-up to my last post, “Tis the Season for Solidarity.” I rented time at Paper Moon Art Studio, gathered supplies, and got some general design ideas to share. I invited a few creative friends to help me get things set up, play around with the material to imagine ways they might be used, and think through the best ways to get people started on the project. I was impressed with all the ways folks found to put the materials together that I hadn’t imagined. The event was attended by Jews and Jewish allies and at the end of the night, 16 new menorahs walked out into the world.

Finally, a friend and I hosted an Winter Solstice Eve party for some kids from school and their parents. We set the party up just after school and had snacks and crafts. Mostly the kids wound up running wild while the adults sipped spiked cider and chatted in the kitchen. But a few joined the adults poking cloves into oranges to make pomanders and cut paper snowflakes.

With all the crappy things happening in the news, I needed this time with friends (old and new) making things to give me hope that we will carry on, and we will make the world beautiful as we do so.

Happy Holidays!

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‘Tis the Season for Solidarity

Growing up in Great Neck, NY, the “quintessential Jewish suburb” (Goldstein, 2006), December was a time for Chanukah candles, not Christmas lights. Still, I remember the few houses around town that were decked out for that holiday. I loved and hated those lights. I loved to see them twinkling through the crisp winter nights. I hated that they reminded me of this great big and seemingly amazing thing I wasn’t a part of.

Today, I live in Columbus, OH where most of my family, friends, and neighbors celebrate some derivation of Christmas. At times I have felt uneasy participating in their seasonal traditions. Afterall, as the Chanukah story teaches us the Maccabees fought the Greeks for the right to be different, not to blend in.  But, as I’ve written in this space before, I now feel comfortable sharing the joy my friends and family feel at this time of year. (See, for example: “Cultural Responsiveness Begins at Home,” and “Our Craftiest Christmas to Date.”)   In turn, I’ve shared my Chanukah traditions and together, we’ve found light in the darkness.

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Sharing the magic of Chanukah candlelighting with some non-Jewish friends.
(Columbus, OH 2007)

Times seem pretty dark for many of us at this moment in time, and it’s not just because the sun is up fewer than 10 hours a day. Many of us are afraid of the direction our country will go when our president-elect takes office in January.

The appointment of Stephen Bannon as Senior Counselor to the President set a lot of Jews on edge. We fear that with someone like Bannon in the White House, someone who has supported racism through the spread of white nationalist messages on Breitbart “News” Network, prejudice and violence against minorities will not only increase, but be condoned. When the story broke of Richard Spencer’s speech at the white nationalist movement conference in D.C. last month, our worst imaginings seemed even more like real possibilities.

After watching Spencer’s talk and the response from his audience, I had a sickening thought. With Chanukah around the corner, would I feel comfortable setting our menorah in the window per tradition? I voiced this fear to my husband, Dan, who was raised Catholic but does not associate himself with the church any longer. While he is not Jewish, he is supportive of my commitment to my Jewish heritage and my desire to raise our daughter, Cora, with a sense of Jewish identity. Dan assured me we would light the candles and display them for the world to see, and that we would get others to join us. (I really love that guy.)

So, here’s your invitation.

If you are Jewish and haven’t lit Chanukah candles in a while, please join us.
If you are a friend of Jews, please join us.
If you want to show the world that you are not afraid to stand up for those who have been persecuted for following beliefs that don’t mimic the dominant culture, please join us.

The Jewish calendar is lunar based which is why our holidays don’t fall on the same secular dates each year. This year we’ll be lighting candles for eight nights beginning December 24th. I’m excited by the idea of millions of chanukiot (a name for menorahs used on Chanukah which have 9, rather than 7 candleholders) taking their place beside Christmas trees, Kwanzaa Kinaras,  that night.

There are lots of ideas for DIY menorahs out there as well as well as information about the candle lighting traditions. If you have a Jewish friend or neighbor, they might have an extra one you can borrow.

Dan and I made up the following secular blessing which we welcome you to use if you are so inclined. It speaks to the spirit of the traditional Hebrew blessing, but is something we believe Jews and non-Jews can say without fear of contradicting their own religious or philosophical beliefs.

“Thank you for being here with me tonight,
to celebrate the miracle of the Chanukah light.
Peace out.”

(NOTE: I hope to come up with a catching #hashtag we can all use to connect on this project, but I need help. Please send your suggestions or post them as a comment below.)

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Paper Hearts and the History of Art Education

DSC_0142The course I’m teaching on the history of art education explored the history of holiday arts in school last week. Just in time for V-Day. Students had interesting discussions, based on our readings and their classroom experiences, about whether, to what extent, and how the holidays might to play a role in the art curriculum today. Not surprisingly, there was a mix of responses.

19th century schools operated seasonally and so the holidays were important benchmarks in the academic year. It made sense to bring them into the school as a way of marking time with students whose lives, and livelihoods, were also tied to the seasons. During the industrial revolution, holiday arts served as a respite from day-to-day routines, and as motivation for students trying to conform to a more and more systems-driven society. Holiday projects were also used as a way of acculturating immigrant children to traditions of the dominant culture (read European-descendant and Christian).

But, “contemporary recommendations for a balanced, multifaceted art education suggest that holidays and related arts and crafts should be neither an organizing principle nor a major focus of the art program, whether taught by a generalist or specialist” (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 68). I agree with this statement and have worked most of my professional life in accordance with it. However, as I have written about extensively in the past, over the years, I have some to embrace holiday arts and crafts in my home life and art education of my own children. Today I had an experience that could relate to classroom practice as well.

I abide by the Charles Schultz philosophy of holiday gifting, handmade is best. And so over the years I have made lots of Valentine’s with the older kids, mostly Rosa. This year, for the first time, Cora was celebrating the holiday at school, so we got a project going. We used air dry clay to make heart shapes into which she pressed all kinds of materials to create patterns and texture – forks and spoons, a potato masher, seashells, old perfection pieces, a toothpick. She painted them, and added glitter before we glued magnets to the back. She got lots of compliments, and was the only kid with something homemade to share. (Yes, I’m bragging.)

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After watching Charlie Brown’s Valentine specials with her G-Ma last night, Cora woke up ready to cut some paper. So we did. She got great practice cutting along a line and had a chance to try using the scissors in her right hand as well as her left, which she typically favors. She glued the hearts together to make a few of these.

IMG_9354As she was cutting and gluing, I was sewing a pillow cover. When she was finished with her collages, she asked if she could use the machine. She made about 25 passes before we got distracted and moved on, but by the end of the session, she was independently lowering and raising the presser foot and needle and cutting her line so she could start again. Not bad for a four-year old.

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So while I’m not prepared to advocate a return to our roots in which “every day [was] a festival” (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 67), I am convinced that a symbol like the heart or a star, or product such as the valentine or ornament, could serve as a vehicle for material exploration and practice. I’m sure some of the T.A.B. adherents reading this will have experience in this department. Any advice for others interested in using holidays as meaningful motivators for student learning?

Holiday Crafting with Teens

Readers of this blog will remember, I don’t come by Christmas naturally. I learned to live with the holiday because I married a man who grew up with it and who loves the spirit of the season – the Chex mix, the Vince Guaraldi Trio, lots of pretty packages under the tree. I’ve written about my relationship with the whole phenomena before – both as a Jewish parent and art educator (Type “Christmas” in the search bar for all the links. There are too many to list here without boring you which just goes to show I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject.)

A few years back now George gave up on Santa and Rosa wasn’t far behind. Now they enjoy playing up the myth for Cora who is just beginning to understand, as much as the daughter of a Jewish mother can. Of course they still love to tear open presents Christmas morning, but they are no longer waking us before the sun rises to do so.

It seems somewhat ironic that just as I started to embrace the holiday and the traditions we’ve made around them, the big kids interest faded. Making cut-outs used to be something we did together from start to finish. It was a multi-day affair. These days they come in at the final hour to smear a little frosting and shake a few sprinkles on top.

Realizing this isn’t just about lack of interest but also lack of time, I determined to plan ahead this year. Drawing on my skills as an art educator, I devised a plan to capture their interest and lure them back. I set-up a Pinterest board to gather cool ideas for projects and shared it with them. I gathered supplies in advance so I would be prepared with activities on days they were with us rather than having to run to the store. And I made a calendar. On this weekend’s agenda: duct tape star ornaments and beeswax candles. I thought it was a pretty cool plan. I was partially right.

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I wound up making this first round of stars myself but I’m hopeful that others will join me at some point. Both the kids have embraced duct tape as a medium in the past and thought these looked really cool so I’ve got that going for me. I hope we’ll make a bunch so we can spread them out around the tree.

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Rosa has recently been asking to burn candles in her room. She jumped at the chance to make some herself. Watching her melt the big blocks of beeswax and pour the piping hot liquid into old glasses Cora and I picked up at the thrift store was one of those alchemical things, like developing photos in a darkroom. I’m psyched to pass these out to some of the folks on my gift list and I know she is too. She said so on Instagram.

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Permission to Play: Winter Crafting Edition

While I was griping about, what I consider, inappropriate cultural appropriations of Christmas crafting a few weeks ago, I’m now fully engaged in making things to decorate our tree and give as gifts. I am wrestling with what to call this tree, what to call this holiday. There’s no Christ in our Christmas. There are cookies, and crafts, twinkly lights and lots of presents. As far as I understand, all that predated Jesus. So, maybe I can celebrate this season without feeling too much Jewish guilt. While I try to figure all that out in my mind, I’m keeping my hands busy making stuff.

Most of my crafting supplies have been in storage since our kitchen project began last spring and I lost my office space, and I am eager to have them around again.  I’m grateful for the parameters Christmas traditions provide for making things. Since I am out of practice, it’s nice to have guidelines for getting back in the swing of things, with plenty of leeway for improvisation. Tasks like making ornaments, cookies, and secret santa gifts offer a jump start; the supplies I have on hand lend a challenge to make the best out of what is before me. This truly is sacred time. Time I catch up on This American Life and the chick flicks in my netflix cue. Time to spend time with the kids around the table with hot glue guns and glitter. Time to rejoice in all things handmade: edible, wearable, and all things in between.

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Please see the follow-up to this post Our Craftiest Christmas to Date.

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I grew up in a Conservative Jewish home. There was no Christmas, and I was fine with that. I can remember only one or two of my friends having a tree and I had no real concept of the cornucopia of gifts they received early Christmas morning. As far as I was concerned, all that was special about December 25th was that it was my mom’s birthday. A day that all the streets in New York were eerily quite.

As my family has morphed and changed, Christmas has become part of my winter routine. (I wrote about my own coming to terms with this last year.) While I would be perfectly happy without it, I have come to embrace the parts that make sense to me – cooking and crafting with the kids, retelling old family stories, and enjoying extra time with my husband at home.

Perhaps because we celebrate both holidays, we never pit one against the other. The Chanukah I grew up with was not about competing with Christmas traditions, it was about celebrating our own. It’s ironic to me how many Jews celebrate a “Christmasy Chanukah” complete with so-called Chanukah bushes. Such an idea runs in complete contradiction to what the holiday is about–maintaining commitment to Jewish ideals when those ideals are challenged by others.

So, I was a bit disappointed when looking for a project to bring to Cora’s hippie hebrew school as part of our Chanukah celebration. So many of the ideas I found, some of which were very beautiful and well-crafted, look like Christmas projects in disguise. I am trying to give some of these ideas a chance. Afterall, if we want to make something festive with our kids, why not decorate the house? We put our menorahs in the window so others can see them; a sign of our freedom to practice our religion, out in the open. Perhaps garland and ornaments can contribute to that cause, but I can’t fight my longing for holiday projects that are distinctively Jewish. Your recommendations most welcome!