As a follow-up to StyleBlueprint’s Holiday Gift Guide, I wanted to turn the focus on Hanukkah, which overlaps Christmas this year. Instead of buying gifts for just one day, try eight days! I asked my friend Jennifer Greenberg Tuvlin to enlighten me about Hanukkah. She did not disappoint. And, if you notice that I spell it with two “k’s” and she spells it with just one, there are actually SIXTEEN different ways to spell Hanukkah:
First a little background:
Hanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It is an eight day festival, which commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem over 2100 years ago. A small group of Jews led by Judah Maccabee rebelled against the Greeks to reclaim the city and the holy Temple. The Maccabees hoped to relight the Menorah in the Temple, however, they were only able to find one small container of oil. The miracle of Hanukah is that this miniscule amount of oil kept the menorah lit for eight days until new, pure oil could be prepared.
As far as Jewish holidays go, Hanukah ranks pretty low on the list of religious significance. Way below Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, the holy days which usually fall in September. (Jewish holidays are based on a lunar calendar and thus correspond to different dates each year) However, in the United States, Hanukah is one of the best know Jewish holidays and is celebrated similarly to Christmas where gifts are exchanged and houses are decorated.
In our family, we try to celebrate all eight nights. This entails lighting the Hanukah menorah which is an eight-branched candle holder with a ninth candle, the “Shamash” or the “helper candle” used to light the other eight candles. Each candle represents one of the days the menorah from the Temple stayed lit.
My kids each have their own menorah. All received them as baby gifts. That’s why my oldest son’s is a firetruck, even though he is eleven now. Jeff and I also got at least four for wedding presents. We don’t light one as a family, each of my kids lights their own. But that is just us. Other families might just light one. There is no correct way because Hanukah is really a fun tradition rather than a religious observance.
Lighting the candles is the only Hanukah activity with religious significance. All others are simply traditions related to the miracle of the oil–which means Hanukah becomes a very fattening holiday.
We also spin the dreidel, a four sided top with four Hebrew letters on it that stands for “Nas Gadol Hayah Sham . . .A Great Miracle Happened There”. In Israel, different letters are used because the letters stand for “A Great Miracle Happened Here”. Each letter also has significance in the dreidel game which children play for “gelt” (money or chocolate money).
Other Hanukah traditions are potato “latkes” (potato pancakes) and jelly doughnuts, or basically anything fried in oil.
Many families also give gifts every night.
And that is where things get dicey in our family.
Every year I am faced with the same problem, do we start Hanukah with the big gift that I know my kids are so excited to get, or do I start with a filler gift, something I wrapped so they could open something on Hanukah? The comparison this year is an I-touch versus new sweatpants that my son has already tried on to make sure I bought the right size. Every year I say I will start with something small but I never follow through. So, by the fifth or sixth night, one of my kids invariably asks, “this is considered a present?” and I am forced to give my now patented lecture about how lucky they are to have what we do and how some children are not even able to celebrate Hanukah because Judaism is illegal in their countries.
Another Hanukah problem I have is that I simply don’t have eight gifts to give my oldest kids. It was much easier to give gifts on each night of Hanukah when my oldest was into Thomas the Train rather than Xbox. So we in the Tuvlin household are lucky if we get in five good nights of Hanukah.
No one night is any more important than the others, thus my family usually just gets together on the Sunday night of Hanukah to have our family get together. This year that night falls on December 25. It would have been a great night to celebrate since we could have picked up Chinese food (which many Jews eat on Christmas since they are the only restaurants open) and kept with the oil theme! However, my family is traveling to Florida and my brother’s family is going to Puerto Rico so we are having a pre-Hanukah celebration and our kids get a ninth night of Hanukah. Including cousins, we have 17 people so rather than buy everyone gifts, each person gets an assigned another.
In recent years, Hanukah has become more commercial and decorations are easier to get. This year I even found chocolate gelt with Jewish stars, wrapping paper and decorations in the dollar bin at Target. This presented a dilemma for me because I felt like I personally must buy everything in stock so Target (or Bed Bath and Beyond) will keep stocking Jewish items.
Right now I have about 20 bags of gelt and six of the same Hanukah coloring books which I justified purchasing by saying “I’m buying them for the team!” (I am hoping my five year old doesn’t realize he keeps coloring the same pictures.)
Also, decorations are becoming very similar to Christmas decorations just with a Jewish twist. We have quite a few “dreidel lights” hanging from the fireplace but I haven’t given in to my kids’ request to buy blue lights for the outside of my house. Thankfully we have a wonderful neighbor who lets my children help decorate her house.
Many stores also stock Hanukah items to purchase as gifts. I’ve gone to the Adath Jeshuran, Temple and Keneseth Israel synagogue gift shops and they sell lots of Judaica items. Also, stores such as Complements in Holiday Manor and Etcetera always carry unique Hanukah presents. My mother has a beautiful collection of dreidels which she has gotten from local stores and art festivals.
The Louisville community also does a great job supporting Hanukah. Jewish Families & Career Services along with Temple Shalom run a “Hanukah Helpers” program which is just like the Angel Tree.
Chabad of Kentucky is sponsoring “Hanukah @ The Summit” which is a candle lighting event for the Community on Wednesday, December 21 at 6:30 and a Hanukah on Ice event at Iceland along with many other events.
This year Hanukah starts on December 20, which is when we will start playing our Adam Sandler Hanukah song and replay the Maccabeat’s Hanukah parody of “Dynamite” (it is actually pretty cute if you want to watch it on YouTube). I know I’ve got three days of the holiday covered so I guess it is time for me to stop writing and get shopping. Happy holidays!