“‘Tis the season to be jolly!” We hear it on the radio and see it all over the mall, usually accompanied by big red ribbons and sparkling ornaments. But the holiday season is our chance to be jolly too. Chanukah is here! Have you bought gifts for your kids, nieces, nephews, babysitters, teachers and, of course, the cleaning lady? Are you making the same latkes that your grandmother always made, or will you be venturing off the beaten egg path and trying out a vegan recipe? Maybe you’re trying to stay away from sugar (like me), and you plan to have a small bite of a potato with some butter on top (just to be yotzei). There are so many things to think about as Chanukah, our own holiday of lights, is upon us once again.
As with any other holiday, Chanukah comes with its own traditions. Doing the same thing year in, year out can become rather tedious, eventually losing some of its meaning. But we also understand the importance of tradition, so if we take these ancient rituals and renew them for ourselves in a fresh and interesting way, they can actually become very exciting and inspiring. The way that I like to make traditions new and fun is to get creative with them or find different, unique ways of viewing them.
Lighting the Menorah: We light the menorah as a reminder of the miracle that the Jews experienced in the Beit HaMikdash when one jar of oil – meant to last only one day, actually lasted for eight days. My friend, Chayarus Kaufman, recently shared with me a deep and practical idea about this festival.
Chanukah is the only holiday that is known for its lights. We light the menorah and sit around, enjoying our family, enjoying the candles, singing and dancing. Women in particular are told not to do any work for at least 30 minutes after the candles are lit. 30 minutes! Since, we’re all expert multi-taskers here, imagine what we could do in a half hour on any given day. But that’s part of the beauty of Chanukah. We are told to use this time to pray and think about all that the lights reflect around us. Not just what’s five feet in front of us, but what we see in our hearts. The candles burning on our menorahs represent the souls in our homes. Experiencing the warm glow of the flames reminds us to see our family members with the bina (inner sense) of our hearts, and not just our limited critical eyes.
We’ve all seen a menorah before, but there are many interesting ways to make your menorah unique to you. Our first menorah looked like this. My husband and I had just came back from Israel and we didn’t have time to buy a menorah, so we got creative and made one instead.
Eating Latkes: Another reminder of the miracle of the oil. The traditional latke recipe typically includes grated onions, potatoes and eggs (and yes, everything will stick together without the matzah meal or flour). Mix it all together and dole into sizzling oil (coconut oil, of course). Definitely delicious. Or, you could try a more interesting twist on the potato pancake like this one, created by Chanie Apfelbaum, who was just featured in the Wall Street Journal for her gourmet latke recipe. I’m planning on trying this one tonight.
Playing Dreidel: Symbolic of what the Jews did during the Greek-Assyrian dictatorship in Israel to hide their Torah learning. The Hebrew letters typically carved into the dreidel represent the words, “A great miracle happened there”, referring not only to the oil found in the Temple, but also to the miracle of the Maccabees’ incredible defeat of the Greek army. There are quite a few fun dreidel games out there, and playing dreidel is a great way to get even your youngest family members into the Chanukah spirit.
And, if you’re into DIY projects, you can make your own! (My husband made this one below out of wood.)
Finally, if you’re like me and have never played a good ol’ game of dreidel, check out this infographic on how to play.
The underlying theme behind all of these traditions is “bringing light into the darkness”. On a larger scale, we see this in the way Israel responds to destruction again and again. On a more personal level, as women, wives and mothers, we can try to be more trusting, more positive, more open and more giving. If you’re planning to get together with family or friends, try inviting someone new or a friend who could really use some cheering up. Play a “getting to know you” game. Not only will you have fun, but you’ll bring light into someone’s darkness.
Have you done any cool Chanukah activities or projects? Does your family have any fun Chanukah traditions? Please share!
A freilichin Chanukah and a Frumtastic Shabbos!
Written by: Marianna Feldman
Edited by: Stephanie Erez