|My big 2 in 2006|
Tonight, at sundown, Chanukah begins. No, it's not Chanukah just yet (much to my children's dismay and Facebook's confusion).
I'm going on the assumption that everyone knows what "The Festival of Lights" is all about. I realize, based on my friends' experiences discussing Chanukah at their kids' schools, that this may not be an accurate assumption. If you really have no idea about the story of Chanukah, you can always set up a consultation with Rabbi Google.
Luckily, if that's too much effort, the Maccabeats exist.
Chanukah, like nearly every other Jewish holiday, can be summed up as, "They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat." It is NOT a major holiday at all. People seem to think it is since it occurs around the same time as a major Christian holiday, but it's actually a pretty minor holiday. It is NOT the Jewish Christmas (which doesn't even make any sense).
We celebrate in the standard way--lighting the menorah (aka hanukkiah) every night at sundown for 8 nights.
Our family has quite an extensive collection of hanukkiot.
There's the large silver one we bought right after we got married (pictured above).
There's the electric one Bubbe gave us the year before. It doesn't fulfill the mitzvah (Chanukah candles must burn to do that), though, so we put that one in the window and use it in conjunction with another one.
Anyone who has Jewish children in any sort of religious programming/schooling will tell you we quickly collect far more hand-made hanukkiot than we can use. We have two clay ones the big girls made in their pre-school Sunday school program 7 years ago. We had sand ones the big 3 made as part of their yeladim group, but the sand didn't hold up well after being stored in the attic in the Great Big Box o'Chanukah. What was carefully crafted layers of pretty color sand became a giant mess the following year. One year, they made some out of painted wood blocks. Those fell apart before we were able to pack them away. Last year, they made some out of a long piece of metal, dominoes and nuts (as in nuts and bolts, not food). They went into the box as hanukkiot They came out this year as a jumbled mess of parts.
To celebrate, we light the menorah (I usually light the silver one and the kids light the electric one. The big girls take turns lighting theirs each night) each night, say blessings and sing songs. Of course, Chanukah hasn't even started yet and I've been randomly bursting out into Sivivon* for more than a week now.
Here's a tidbit you may not have known: traditionally, women don't have to work while the Chanukah candles are burning. Here's another tidbit: Our hanukkiah holds regular shabbat candles which are about 5x's as thick as the usual Chanukah candles. ;-)
We eat traditional food cooked in oil to remind us of the story of the oil. The most well-known ones include latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).
In our house, the kids get one gift each night, more than one if there are enough. Some people plan out exactly which gifts to give their kids on each night. We usually just plan for the first and last. Back in his youth, my husband got "useful" gifts on some nights (the family cats usually gave him socks or underwear). That's not our thing, though. Our pets aren't allowed anywhere near the lingerie department. The kids usually get toys, books, electronics and/or clothes. This year, among Journey Girl dolls, DS games, dresses, books, and all things Harry Potter, my middle daughter asked (and will receive) a bath mat. I don't understand it, but she's fascinated by those plush ones, so we put it on her wish list and Mémé bought it for her. I can't tell you how thrilled she will be. I also can't tell you why in the world she asked for one in the first place. Well, she IS my daughter. I guess that should be sufficient to explain all.
*The lyrics are slightly different in Israel. Nes Gadol Haya Sham (A great miracle happened there) becomes "Nes Gadol Haya Po," in Israel (A Great Miracle Happened Here). Dreidels are also slightly different to reflect that change . The letters correspond with each word: Nun (Nes), Gimmel (Gadol), Hey (Haya), Shin (Sha), but the Shin is replaced by Pay in Israel.