Move Over, Christmas!
By: Joie LaRiviere
“Hanukkah is the festival of lights/ Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights.” - “The Chanukah Song”, Adam Sandler.
December is one *cool* month. Filled with laughter, light, (sometimes) rain, and family for most, the month represents the most wonderful time of the year. And this happiness is not exclusive. For Jews and Christians alike, December brings gifts and tradition with every year. Though Jewish kids often feel left out at school events often centered around the holiday of Christmas, we have our own holiday to come home to. It contains no trees, no ham, no ornaments, and no yule logs. Instead, it has latkes, Hanukiahs (NOT regular menorahs), dreidels, and chocolate coins (gelt).
Chanuka, as stated previously, is the festival of lights. We celebrate the event of our Jewish past in which oil for candles lasted eight days after the reclamation of Judea’s holy Second Temple, instead of the one day that the oil was supposed to last. This is why we have eight nights, and light eight candles (“one for each night/ they shed a sweet light/ to remind us of days long ago”). It was a miracle how long this oil lasted. This miracle, occuring after the defeat of the Syrians by Judah Maccabee and his followers, is referenced in the Hebrew letters found on the dreidel. The letters, נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), and ש (Shin), represent the phrase "נס גדול היה שם (Nes Gadol Hayah Sham)”, which means “A great miracle happened there”, there being Judea. In Israel, instead of a ש (Shin), there is a פ (Pei), creating the phrase “נס גדול היה פה (Nes Gadol Hayah Poh)”, “A great miracle happened here.” So, while dreidel is a fun game to play, it also helps to teach young Jews about their history.
Chanukkah comes with as many traditions as any other holiday, and every family has their own unique traditions. Some families make latkes together, others make mandelbrot cookies, others make sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and others, like mine, sit and watch “A Rugrats Hanukkah”. (Foods fried in oil are eaten in abundance, as oil is obviously quite important to the holiday.) Hanuka and latke parties are common among groups of Jewish friends, lasting hours, until the last candle goes out. Some children receive one gift for every night, others open their gifts on the last night. But there is one tradition found in almost every practicing Jewish home on this holiday. The lighting of our candles and the recitation of our traditional prayers at sundown every night. The Hanukiah, a type of menorah with 9 candles, is lit using the shamash (helper) candle, the ninth candle, usually the tallest of all. Some families put their Hanukiah in a window, while others may place it on a fireplace mantel. In any case, it is often placed in a spot easily visible, so anyone is able to gaze on the sweet light that it produces.
So, to all my Jewish peers on this holiday of Channukah, Chag Sameach! I wish you the happiest Chanukka, filled with light, love, laughter, and latkes!