Holiday Traditions: My Friend’s favorite Hanukkah Stories

The Festival of Light – Hanukkah

Right after Halloween, I was walking through a large everything store. I won’t name names, but you could use their symbol for archery practice. I saw the décor section was changing. The witches and goblins where being replaced with red and green everything. Oh no, Christmas! I could feel my chest tighten as I listed all things I needed to buy, cook, wrap, decorate and mail. I turned my cart and started to head as far away as I could, then I saw a small end cap display. It was filled with the calming colors of blue and white. Oh yeah, it is time for Hanukkah.

When I was in seminary, I learned what the holiday of Hanukkah really is. Growing up Christian, I would hear about Hanukah. It felt a bit sad compared to the overindulgence of Christmas.  As if Hanukah was invented so Jewish children would not be left out of the gift extravaganza. After I understood Hanukah, I was deeply touched by the tradition.

The Hanukah story is not in the Hebrew Bible. But it is in the books 1 and 2 of the Maccabees. The Maccabees are early Jewish writings detailing the history of the Jews in the first century BC.  The story of Hanukah is about dedication. The word Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew verb meaning “to dedicate”.    It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.  The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jeruselm in 139 BC and celebrates the miracle of the oil, lighting the Menorah for 8 nights when there was only enough oil for one.

Hanukkah is eight nights filled with prayers, blessings, supernatural miracle accounts and retelling of Jewish History. Ok and some presents. I am deeply touched by the beauty of Hanukkah.

I asked some of my friends to share their favorite parts of Hanukkah and the Jewish traditions surrounding the Holiday. Their stories here:

Here is my favorite poem that relates To a Hanukkah :

Everyone must know and understand

that within burns a candle/lamp.

There is no one’s candle is like his/her fellow’s

and no one lacks their own candle.

Everyone must know and understand

that it is their task to work to reveal the light of that candle in the public realm.

And to ignite it until it is a great flame,

and to illuminate the whole world.

– Rav Abraham Kook

For my family, we have a whirlwind of 8 beautiful nights. Before the festivities, I bake about 4 different types of brisket and fry over 5 dozen latkes (potato pancakes). I really do love to get the family together. We will host an evening of just my husbands family, then one for my side, a few nights for our friends, one for just us 5 and one for giving to others. The importance of the holiday is to be connected with family, tradition and the history of how our people have survived. Most importantly, with every candle we light we are to think of it as our own light we shine upon others and how alone, they are not the same as together. How with every candle we light we think of how we can help be a better person for the world and others around us. It’s one of my most favorite (not even religious) celebrations.

“Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, commonly known as the “Festival of Lights”. It celebrates the miracle of one night’s worth of oil lasting for 8 nights… just enough time to make new oil. (Clearly, this was before we had electricity and light bulbs!) Our family loves that there are 8 straight nights that we spend the evening together. The kids take turns lighting the Hanukkiah (often called a Menorah). We then take time to enjoy the warmth of the lights while opening small gifts, eating a sweet treat, or playing a family game.

The traditional Hanukkah game is called the Dreidel Game. Children as young as 4-5 years old begin to play this game in groups of 2 or more players. Bags of “Gelt” (gold coins filled with chocolate) are commonly given to kids and can be used for the game. Our kids like to play the Dreidel Game throughout the entire month of December! Jewish people also celebrate Hanukkah by eating foods cooked/fried in oil; thus, celebrating the miracle that the oil lasted for 8 nights. Latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts are favorite traditional food for both children and adults. We also enjoy eating food or cookies, from family recipes, that have been passed down for generations.”

If you are Jewish, what are your favorite parts of the Hanukkah Tradition? If you aren’t, what did you learn from this post? What traditions would you like to adopt this holiday season?

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