Alien Nation
by Betsy Mars

In isolation, a consolation,
prized: the Chanukah bush
attended by a stuffed tie-dyed snake
masquerading as our surrogate–Santa,
without beard or belly, bearing
bags of good will.
May it follow us all the days of our lives.
Candles duly lit, dreidels spun.
Latkes fried, the golden pot won.
The annual miracle, snake oil
medicine to treat our family ills.

Eight days: a week and then,
around the corner,
Christmas is in full swing.
Shining tinsel hangs, silver icing
atop a flock of
sheep in the manger. Knee deep in
popcorn and cranberries.
Stringing along while singing a song.

It’s starting to look a lot like
the little drummer boy sat in the corner
forlorn. Like me, an outsider.
A witness to incense and pine tree scents,
hot cider bubbling and families juggling
strands of lights on shaky ladders.
Three kings arriving on camelback to meet the
My first taste of chazeret,
a bitter herb.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This is my father and son at Chanukah in 1992. Although my father was reluctant, I was able to convince him that it was important to impart some knowledge of the rituals and beliefs of the Jewish people to my children so that this part of their heritage would not be lost. Both children came to love this holiday particularly because of the lack of pressure or emphasis on gifts as well as this special time with their grandfather.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Throughout my childhood, I attended religious services with friends of different faiths. Although I never found God through my exposure to these services, I found acceptance and inclusion with my friends’ families and developed a lifelong love of Christmas and an appreciation for multiculturalism. My father was a lapsed Jew and so I was brought up with little ritual and no religion. Prior to second grade, I had never been aware of my “otherness” and in an effort to share in the joys of the season, I exerted pressure on my parents to introduce some strange customs into our festivities—hence, my stuffed animal snake was reborn as the Chanukah snake. I was not quite alienated, but I was always aware that we were in the minority. I’m still wrestling with my spirituality and trying to wrap my mind around life, the universe, etc.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Betsy Mars is a Southern California poet of Jewish descent. Her work has appeared in several anthologies and she is currently working on becoming more disciplined in her writing both as a means of personal growth and communication. Relationships are paramount for her presently and she hopes that better communication will enhance her bonds with those she loves. Her nonverbal communication skills are vouched for by her dog and three cats.