By Dana Mietus
Let’s start with some good news you might not know: No matter what way you choose to spell the Jewish festival of lights – you won’t be wrong. Of course, you could also see it as you can’t be right, but as someone who regularly spell-checks the word ‘restaurant’ (no I did not get it right the first time writing this) I prefer to choose the never wrong option.
What is Hannukah?
The short version of the story is that long ago a synagogue was taken from the Jewish people during a war, but after a long battle the Jewish people were able to reclaim it. However, the lamp they were to use for their rededication ritual contained only enough oil to last for one night. Heartbroken, and bracing themselves to be thrown into darkness once again, they carried on with what they had. Shockingly, this oil somehow lit the temple for eight whole days and nights, and it was considered a miracle. The Jewish people were overjoyed – and that excitement is what started the celebration of Hannukah.
The Holiday Season
As someone who grew up celebrating both Christmas and Channukah, I always look forward to the holiday season. This is particularly the case when the two holidays overlap. Having lived in small towns throughout the Midwest, it is helpful when Hanukah lands in mid-December because there is a higher likelihood of being able to find decorations and supplies at chain stores like Target or Walmart. This is never a guarantee sadly, especially if Hannukah happens to land around Thanksgiving because stores that assume it’s a Christmas-esque event don’t have the candles or menorahs out yet. I’m not above using birthday candles from our junk drawer in a pinch!
This year though, Hanukkah starts the evening of December 18th and goes until December 26th – so most stores will (hopefully) have what I endearingly call the “Hannukah shelf” with a couple candles and plastic menorahs. I have recently moved to the east coast though, and the Chanukkah shelves are substantially bigger and some even have special dreidel or Chanukkah-themed dog toys!
Like Christmas, no two people celebrate the same way. Similar to how some people may or may not have advent calendars or open presents on Christmas eve; my siblings and I grew up only getting one Hanukah present on the last of the 8 nights. The rest were saved for Christmas morning at my grandmother’s house. Our traditions always included singing and playing music, lighting the candles, and playing a rowdy game of dreidel where my brother and I would show off – spinning the toy upside down. The tradition that is closest to my heart as I celebrate Hanukkah as an adult is eating oil-fried foods – Latkes, specifically. Also known as potato pancakes, these tasty, crispy treats are often eaten with sour cream or (my favorite) applesauce. They are particularly special to me because I made latkes for my spouse the first time we ever spent time together in college, at my first (and last) Hannukah party. There’s no story behind why I don’t host these anymore, other than being a terrible, terrible cook. Now I choose to spend my holidays in a more lowkey and energy efficient (I like to say cozy) way. We light the candles, my spouse impresses me by remembering more and more of the Hebrew prayer every year, we eat latkes or donuts, and watch Hallmark movies with our dogs.
Happy Holidays, friends.