By Darcy Stein

I’m a 30-something Jewish ginger girl from Long Island, New York who, at age 25, relocated to Anchorage, Alaska with her significantly older partner. I get a variety of reactions when I divulge this information to people in the lower 48 and beyond, but it usually ends up somewhere between, “Whoa, Alaska?” with that wide-eyed emoji that does a fantastic job of resembling a deer in headlights, and the reaction my mother had at first... “And he’s how much older...?”

I went from living on a fish-shaped island with a whole lot of people—more specifically a whole lot of Jewish people—to living somewhere that when “the holiday” talk comes up and I disclose that I don’t really celebrate Christmas per se, I’m met with that deer in headlights look all over again. There are not many Jews here, to say the least, and the general population of Anchorage seems to think the entire month of December orbits around one single holiday.

A day that so many people, with their holiday-mode switched on full blast, drive themselves (and those around them) nutty over desperate attempts to check all their boxes off all their lists. They want to nail that perfect gift for _______ (insert name here and repeat ad infinitum) so they find themselves zipping around from store to store racking up credit card debt, stiff necks and tight hips. Ah, yes; welcome to the holiday season in America.

Of the nine years I’ve lived here, every year without fail I start to notice the sneaky increase in traffic that begins in early November and seems to get real sticky around the two main malls here in Anchorage — 5th Avenue and Dimond. I also notice my favorite bakery, which has three different locations mind you, sell out of everything earlier and earlier in the day. And then, the kicker — the stark contrast between the massive Christmas section at chains like Fred Meyer and Target and the ‘Other Holiday’ section, which gets a measly few boxes of basic Chanukah candles, a highly offensive “Ask Bubbe” talking doll, an extremely small choice of Jew-friendly cards and maybe the occasional Kwanzaa item thrown in there for shits and giggles. It is not a super uplifting or balanced experience to say the least.

Because of these blatant imbalances I am reminded of something probably more than the next gal. All that is really required of us from the holiday season is to be present rather than give presents. It’s a chance to reconnect with those around us and pay homage to the most precious gift of all: time. Let’s not squander it sitting in mall traffic or on an epic quest to find a silent air humidifier...

Occasionally I’ll get asked some Chanukah-related questions like, what’s the thing called that you put the candles in? Do you light them all at once? Do you blow them out? What if you leave the room and a candle catches something on fire? A lot of things to take into consideration for this special eight-night holiday celebration of lights but I’ll do my best to boil it down. Yes, I light candles on a menorah. No, you don’t light them all at once, you light one candle that you use to light the other ones and then you light one additional candle per night for all eight nights. But these are just the details you see, not really the heart of it.

Yes, I do all of these rituals but I celebrate Chanukah by way of self-reflection and reconnection to myself, as well as to those I choose to surround myself with. I use the slow and gradual regaining of daylight hours and the literal lights themselves as a way to remind myself of these very simple truths: the present is all we have. So I try to use this time to go inward and come out a more enlightened and evolved being. I do my best to show those I love with actions to back up such a large claim. And I keep in mind that more stuff bought does not necessarily equal more love proven; Gratitude can’t really be quantified.

And finally, just as a sweetener to all this joy, if all of this reflecting and evolving gets to happen while I sit in a Chanukah candle-lit room and puff on a mellowly indica-dominant blunt because recreational marijuana is legal in the great state of Alaska, well then, that’s really something to be grateful for.

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