Happy Hannukkah! Happy Channukkah! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Chanukka! Sameach Hanukkah!
Whichever one you prefer, Happy Hanukkah to you and yours!
The story of Hanukkah is that the Greeks were trying to desecrate the Temple to push out the Jews in Second Century BC. The Maccabees revolted and defended the region against the Greeks. When they got to the Temple, the Torah (holy scrolls of the 5 books of Moses) had been ripped and burned and the eternal flame (an oil lamp placed above the ark) had been snuffed out. As the soldiers searched the Temple they found enough oil to last 1 night. The oil then burned for 8 days. And thus, Jews began celebrating this miracle and it was dubbed “the Festival of Lights”.
Growing up for me, in public school in the 80's, meant fully embracing Christmas. Midway through elementary, however, the Jewish moms did what they do best and got a “Jewish section” added to the Christmas program. It then became known as the "Holiday Program." We would light the menorah on stage, recite the prayers, and then dance the Hora awkwardly, as there was little enthusiasm and not enough people.
My husband and I are raising our children to celebrate the giving, loving spirit of both Christmas and Hanukkah. They participate in the magic of Santa, Elves, Christmas cookies, and ornament exchanges. I am also teaching them (and their classmates) as much as I can about Hanukkah. They understand that Hanukkah is about celebrating our family, loving one another, and, as in any good Jewish family, FOOD!
Below you will find how my immediate family celebrates the holiday. This varies from family to family, based on their own family history and the Jewish culture in which they they were raised.
Meals for dinner:
Dinner time with my children and husband follows the way it always has: whatever is on the schedule gets made and some nights we add latkes. We try to pick one night that we make really special and cook a “big” meal. My parents, siblings, and I get together at my parents’ house (when it’s convenient for everyone and not necessarily during Hanukkah) and have “Ninth Night” with brisket, green beans, root vegetables, latkes, and too many desserts.
We all adore latkes. Latkes are potato pancakes. In some families, this means a mashed potato used to make things more like flapjacks, served with jelly or syrup. In our family, we go for a more potato/hashbrown type latke. Here’s a recipe that seems to match mine. I don’t know the author and I have not tried her recipe, but it seems similar to the one in my grandmother’s cookbook and my memory. We serve ours with sour cream and applesauce. Some of my kids go the sour cream route, two of them go the applesauce route, and one goes for ketchup (all I can say is, she’s from the South so she doesn’t know better). I recommend you try them all individually, and find what works for you!
Donuts and all things FRIED:
This is a common part of any Hanukkah celebration. Some families do a traditional jelly donut and stop with latkes and donuts. Others really get into the celebration of the long lasting oil and fry nearly everything, nightly.
Gelt is a chocolate coin candy typically won and traded on Hanukkah while playing the dreidel game. The dreidel has 4 Hebrew letters: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for "נס גדול היה שם" (Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – "a great miracle happened there") But, if you’re in Israel, you can get dreidels that translate to “A great miracle happened here!”
Gifts were not traditionally a part of the celebration of Hanukkah. Over time, immigration to America, the creation of all things Hallmark, and the overlapping of Christmas, gifts have become part of the holiday.
Menorahs are the candle holders used for the celebration. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and typically have 8 "regular" candles, one for each night, and 1 Shamesh, or leader. We light from right to left and the tradition is, one candle per night, with the leader lighting the others. In our house, the number of menorahs being lit varies by who wants to light them and how many candles I have on hand that year. But we always try to make sure we have plenty for the last night so they can ALL burn bright!
My family LOVES decorations! This year seems to have taken us by storm and we don’t have all of them up, but we have banners, lights, and 9 menorahs! A few of my friends have yard decorations, and I’d love to add some to my collection of décor. It varies from house to house!
Parties and the Like:
Some families feel that the first night is the most important, others feel it’s the last night, and still others feel it’s the night that falls on Shabbat, our week-ending celebration of life. My favorites activities are the “color war” recently added to my children’s Sunday school program to celebrate the Maccabee Soldiers, my own children lighting the various menorahs we have, and my family’s “ninth night” when I finally get to see all my siblings in the same place at the same time. Ultimately, whatever way anyone chooses to celebrate the spirit of the holiday, it should be what fits with them and their family. The prayers, the lights, the joy are all to teach love!
Happy Hanukkah to you all; may the light of the season find you.