Chanukah (or Hanukah, Hanukkah, etc.), also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day holiday celebrating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev (a month in the Hebrew calendar), and may occur anytime from late November to late December. This particular Chanukah is rare in that it coincides with Thanksgiving – an event that last happened in 1888, and won’t happen again for over 79,000 years.
Chanukah is celebrated in many ways by the Jewish people – prayers and blessings, reading the Torah, the lighting of a special candelabra (called a menorah), the singing of hymns, playing games with a top/die called a dreidel, and (my favorite part, of course) the preparing and eating of special foods, including potato cakes called latkes.
Chanukah is actually a minor Jewish holiday, but has seen increased importance with many Jewish families, especially secular Jews, in the latter part of the 20th century. Many regard it as a cultural alternative to Christmas, and some families will even cease their Chanukah celebrations once the children have grown and left the home.
(Wikipedia – Hanukkah)
We celebrated Chanukah with our friends George and Carol Mason, who we met through our involvement in the local community theatre. George is a cantor, a member of the clergy who leads worship, teaches, and performs other duties in the Jewish community. When we asked if they would be willing to teach us a few things about Chanukah, they generously offered to have us come to their home to have dinner and celebrate the holiday with them.
Once there, we enjoyed latkes with sour cream and corned beef and fried chicken and some really awesome cole slaw that George made himself (Secret ingredient: sour cream! Go figure!). We listened to stories about the Maccabeean Revolt and the miracle of the oil. We sang traditional songs, and some non-traditional ones. (George had us sing the Dreidel Song, but with our own lyrics, changing what the dreidel is made from each time. Mine went something like “Dreidel dreidel dreidel, I made you out of rock, and so nobody finds you, I keep you in my sock!”)
We lit menorahs – one for each of us – using the shamash, the “attendant” candle that has a place either above, below, or behind the others in the menorah. We played a heck of a lot of dreidel – first by spinning them on foam plates with numbers written on them to score points, and then in the more traditional way, using Tootsie Rolls for gelt.
It was wonderful and fun and educational and loving and all of the stuff that a holiday should be. I don’t think I can say any more than that, really. Many, many thanks to the Masons for welcoming us into their home, feeding us wonderful food, teaching us, and making us laugh. L’chaim!
Do you celebrate Chanukah? If so, tell us about your traditions and stories in the comments!