Monday, December 14, 2009

Complementary Cultural Holidays by Laura Krauss Melmed

As a child growing up in a household where both reading and tolerance were highly valued, I was exposed to a panoply of folk tales, myths, legends, and other traditional tales from around the world. I found wisdom, wonder, adventure, humor and the whole range of human emotions waiting to be mined from these stories. In addition, my extended family on both sides is ethnically, racially and religiously mixed. Growing up in such a milieu fed my fascination with cultural differences while helping me to understand how alike we really all are. Now as a writer, like other writers I draw on what I have lived, learned and am still exploring to create my stories.

In writing my original tale, Moishe’s Miracle, A Hanukkah Story (Chronicle), I called upon my own traditions and background. Set in a long-ago Eastern European landscape glowingly depicted by illustrator David Slonim, it tells of Moishe, a poor but generous milkman. When Moishe finds a magic frying pan that brings potato latkes by the dozens and even hundreds to his hungry neighbors, it causes unexpected problems and some big changes for him, his wife Baila and the whole village of Wishniak. This story was meant to be a rousing holiday read, but also to emphasize the importance of compassion and sharing during the winter holidays as well as in our busy everyday lives.

A more recent holiday title of mine, Hurry! Hurry! Have You Heard? (HarperCollins) had a different inspiration. Tenderly illustrated by Jane Dyer, it tells in verse of how a little bird flies out over the wintry countryside, inviting a variety of small animals to come celebrate a newborn baby. While the text contains no overt religious references, it is based on the Christmas story, with its theme of the hope that a new birth brings to an imperfect world. That is the point of Hurry! Hurry! along with the idea that even the smallest animal, bug or bumblebee holds importance in a grand scheme that we can only try to understand.

Both Hurry! Hurry! and Moishe’s Miracle are meant to describe the faith and optimism we draw upon to mark, with celebration, this darkest time of the year. Our various traditions, in some ways similar, in others gloriously different, serve to light the winter season with candles and song, food and drink, the closeness of family, and the joy of story. May your winter holidays be filled with warmth and cheer!

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