I’ve always loved this time of year for lots of reasons. Being Jewish, I enjoy Christmas vicariously without the hassle of huge holiday shopping and battling mobs in malls. It’s also my birthday, and coincidentally, that date often falls during Chanukah, so I always felt especially blessed. As a young child, I thought all the decorations and fuss were for my birthday. (Okay, I was a very young kid at the time and wised up fast).
Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is really a minor Jewish holiday in terms of observance, but because it coincides with Christmas, it’s turned into a major event on the calendar. So, what is the holiday? Basically, it dates back over 2000 years. During the Greek occupation of Judea, the Greeks attempted to destroy Jewish culture and defiled The Temple. The Maccabee family waged a civil war and defeated the Greeks. There was only one cruise of oil left to light the menorah in The Temple, but miraculously, the oil lasted 8 days until fresh oil arrived. Since that time, it has been the custom to light a menorah (more correctly, a Chanukiah) for 8 days, starting with 1 candle, each night adding another until 8 candles are lit on the last day.
Oil being significant to the miracle, it’s a custom to eat food that is cooked in oil. (This is not the time to count calories!). The most common foods are potato pancakes (latkes) or doughnuts, especially with jelly filling. They are sold everywhere in Israel during the holiday which is a school vacation to the delight of children. Stores are decorated, and lots of free activities are held for children. It’s just a fun time for everyone.
One of the precepts of lighting the Chanukah candles is to “publicize” the miracle. In recent years in the US, there has been a significant growth in public lighting ceremonies and this has spread to other countries more recently. Personally, I think the nicest way of doing this is something that is common in Israel. I’ve never seen this anywhere else, but there you can buy a glass case so you can light your Chanukiah and place it outside in the cold, dark night and it won’t blow out from the wind. It’s quite common to see apartment buildings with balconies where every apartment has a Chanukiah flaming outside in these glass cases. Even my teenage son and his friend, (you never know what teenagers will say) thought this was “cool.” It’s beautiful to walk the streets and see all these lights glowing in the dark. It’s heartening and moving and I can never help thinking that these candles bring light into our lives.
I wish everyone a joyous, happy and healthy holiday season with light in your lives too.
Leave a comment for a chance to win the choice of one of the Liberty Heights series books as a prize. Book 3, Hanky Panky, should be out in December. Book 1 , Animal Crackers, and Book 2, The Life of the Party are both out.