The decorations, the Holiday foods, the presents…wait a minute, what holiday are we talking about? Oh, right, Chanukah! Because of the aspirations of some modern era Jews wanting to fit in and be contemporary, Chanukah now must compete with the excesses of Christmas marketing. The stories of these two holidays are very different, but the traditions and celebrations are remarkably familiar with various twists. Some people I know even have a Chanukah Bush, replete with blue and white decorations. As an aside, Chanukah is actually a lesser holiday, celebrating the Jews’ victory over an evil Assyrian King who oppressed the Jews and defiled their Temple. The holiday celebrates the miracle of the oil used to light the menorah (candelabra) in the temple which should have lasted only 1 day, but ended up burning for 8 days. I love this holiday for a variety of reasons, 12 of them to be exact.
1. Latkes, or potato pancakes
This is an excuse to deep fry grated potatoes in oil and dunk them in applesauce or sour cream all in the name of the miracle of the oil. For real authenticity, use a food processor and for added fortitude, grate a little by hand. Here’s a latke recipe for these tasty delectables.
2. Cool Menorahs
When my kids were young, they all had their own menorah, (an 8-branched candelabra, with a 9th branch for the “helper” candle) and would light a candle, adding one each night for each of the 8 days. None was more favored than the Noah’s Ark menorah, each kid fighting to light the bunny.
3. Minimilist decorations
Each year I drag out the window clings and hanging decorations, flimsy, and worn, but filled with benign sentiment. One of my hanging decorations has an “H” missing, so it reads “appy Hannukah”!
4. Presents – 8 of them!
It used to be one present for each day, and they were not very extravagant, especially if you multiply by several kids. Gifts ranged from yo-yo’s to books, video games and clothing. The kids eventually grew bored with these practical gifts and would also rush through dinner just to receive them. This grew old quickly. The new tradition of one big gift given was started after one too many, “Mom, socks again?”
5. Eight days instead of one
Makes it easy to see the family, especially if it’s a large one or separated by distance. If you don’t catch them on day 1, you have another 7 to see your relatives. You can relegate the last few days to your least favorites! (I won’t tell) Besides, how much more festive do you feel if you know you have an 8 day holiday. Party time!
6. Chanukah Gelt
Growing up, my Dad used to give me Gelt, or coins, every night. With my kids, real coins have been replaced by chocolate wrapped gold coins. My favorite: dark chocolate ones!
7. Chanukah Lights (sorta)
Since, Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, let there be light! I admit, I have what I can only call “Christmas lights envy.” They are beautiful, festive and also serve to light up streets, unlit by streetlamps. We place an orange or blue bulbed electric menorah in the window to advertise our holiday with some form of paltry light.
8. More fried food
Those of Israeli descent indulge in sufganiyot, or fried doughnuts, filled with jelly. Again, in commemoration of the miracle of the oil, you can eat fried foods without gaining any weight. Yes, I just made that up.
9. Dreidel game
The dreidel is a spinning top, and depending on what hebrew letter it lands on, leads to losing or gaining money, poker chips or chocolate gelt, depending on how old you are. My Dad used to use walnuts or peanuts in their shells. Our family plays for pennies, so the stakes are low. We have collected a sizable collection of wooden and plastic dreidels in various sizes and colors and usually end up having dreidel spin and knock-down contests.
The Jewish rebel army who fought for religious freedom and reclaimed the holy Temple were cool, fighting heroes, bearing swords. Their battles were re-enacted by my sons when they were young because it would be an excuse for them to use make believe swords, i.e. forks, rulers or sticks, anything with the capacity to strike blows.
11. Creative spelling
This is the only holiday I know of that does away with the convention of correct spelling. This holiday literally means, “dedication”. You can spell it as : Chanukah, Hanukkah, Chanukkah or Hanukah. They’re all correct..gold coins for everyone!
12. Unique Chanukah songs
I can’t say I own any Chanukah song albums or DVD’s but I do have one cassette tape of ditties like: “ I had a little dreidel” and “Oh Chanukah Oh Chanukah” My recent favorite is Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Song.
However you celebrate, it’s still an excuse for carrying on tradition, family get-togethers and eating high-caloric, delicious foods.
What are your favorite things or questions about Chanukah?
Lily Zajc, is a copywriter, public relations professional, and blogger on fitness and exercise for Three Village Patch, on Long Island, N.Y. She is a mother to 3 and only daughter to 1. Migrating from Brooklyn to Long Island as a young adult, she learned to re-invent herself from professional to parent, back to professional, along with being a long distance care-taker. She enjoys exercise, yoga, music, her poodles and exploring social media.