I wanted to take this occasion to share some facts and guidelines about celebrating Chanukah. Here’s 8 facts – one for each of those 8 CRAZY nights!
1. You place the candles in the menorah from right to left.
2. You light the candles from left to right
3. The menorah is meant to be seen – that’s why we put it in the window
4. The Chanukah menorah is called a chanukiah (a menorah is just any candelabrum).
5. You aren’t supposed to use the Chanukah lights to do anything (work, read, write, etc). They are holy unto themselves you should just enjoy their beauty (my favorite part).
6. Dreidels in Israel have different Hebrew letters on them than they do here. Outside of Israel, it is נ,ג,ה,ש for "a great miracle happened there." In Israel, you replace the ש with a פ to make it "a great miracle happened here."
7. Tinsel (even blue and white tinsel) is not traditional for this holiday.
8. You probably shouldn’t get me started on my personal opinions on the Chanukah bush!
Too late. I’m started.
Here’s the thing. The story of Chanukah marks a time when the Greeks were trying to assimilate the Jews. They wanted us to worship their way. They wanted us to decorate the Temple their way. The Jews revolted and took back their sacred space, rededicating it to the Jewish religion. Chanukah is a celebration of Jewish uniqueness and our ability to maintain our own identity in the midst of the wonderful cultures by which we have been surrounded over the centuries.
Now fast-forward to today. Christmaka? Chanukah bush? Chanukah lights? If it weren’t so depressing, it’d be funny!
Chanukah is a lovely minor holiday. I love the songs, the smell of melting wax, the taste of sufganiyot (jelly donuts – which, by the way, I’d take over fruitcake any day), and latkes. I love our Jewish distinctiveness.
By all means, let’s celebrate their holiday with our neighbors and friends. But when we "borrow" their traditions, we take them out of their sacred context. These traditions are symbolic for Christians and we demean their traditions when we take them and try to make them Jewish, putting them in a context where they have no meaning. Worse yet, we belittle our own beautiful traditions, marking an anti-assimilation holiday by assimilating!
Chanukah is beautiful all on its own.
Here are 8 things I love about Chanukah:
1. Watching the candles increase each night, bringing more and more light to a dark winter
2. Chanukah gelt
3. Jelly donuts and latkes
4. The songs (many more than "dreidel dreidel," I promise!)
5. The warmth of it (I can’t quite explain that one, but it’s warm to me!)
6. Family Chanukah parties with cousin Rena leading the kids in a rousing rendition of "Lion Hunt" and cousin Lou with the guitar (it’s been a few years, Lou – bring it back!) and cousin Marsha singing BEAUTIFUL harmonies to every folk song we could remember the words to.
7. Watching kids open gifts (before you yell at me, this one is an OLD tradition that is related to the gelt and is supposed to be about encouraging learning and study)
8. Standing in the kitchen with just my hubby lighting the candles and being together.
Happy Chanukah everyone!
I was thinking of getting blue and white lights this year to put on our windows and you helped me decide against it. You are correct. Let their traditions be theirs and ours be ours. We can enjoy their decorations and we can enjoy our decorations and celebrations and the two don’t have to compete or be mixed up to make anything ‘better’ or to make a point. Thank you for your clarity!
Hi Sally, I love celebrating Chanukah. Apropos of your comment about standing in the kitchen with David & lighting the candles, when Jason and I were first married, we lit our candles before bed, in our bedroom. We pretended it was our fireplace. By the eighth night, we had a blaze! That’s one of my favorite memories of Chanukah!
Couldn’t agree more. Love, Marsha
I liked our conversation the other night on this subject so it was wonderful to see you blog on it! Like I said, what is theirs is theirs and I can honor it in their home, but what is ours is ours and they can enjoy it as a guest in my house. See you tonight as all the Chanukia light up our warm and welcoming sanctuary!