To those of us who don’t celebrate Christmas, it can seem like a red and green explosion starting in mid-November. Just walk through the Target “holiday aisles” looking for one roll of Happy Hanukkah wrapping paper (and no, “silver snowflakes” don’t count) and you’ll understand what I mean. It can seem like your holiday has become a mere endcap in the store of life.
But instead of letting it get me down, I see it as a challenge: to spread my own holiday cheer, one latke at a time.
If you don’t know it already, here is the background on the holiday: Hanukkah—or Chanukah—is known as the Jewish festival of lights and lasts eight days. It celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over a much larger Syrian army. It also celebrates a miracle that happened during this time, when just a day’s supply of oil lasted for—you guessed it—eight days. Each menorah holds nine candles—one for each day, plus the “shamash,” or helper candle that lights all the others. So we commemorate our history by lighting our menorahs for eight days and eating lots of things associated with oil like latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar and uses the moon for its dates, the start of Hanukkah (the 25th of Kislev) usually fluctuates anywhere between late November (one year it began on Thanksgiving) and the end of December.
While those who celebrate Christmas basically have two days to fit in all the relatives and feasts and presents, we get to spread ours out over a week. Last year, Hanukkah came on December 2nd. Since it was early in the month and wasn’t competing with a million holiday parties, we decided to open our home up to friends who wanted to celebrate with us. We didn’t extend a fancy or formal invitation. I simply posted to Facebook the dates we would be home and what time we’d be lighting our menorahs.
Our friends showed up.
We hosted 37 people over five nights. Most not Jewish. That just blew my mind. The idea was simply to spread tolerance and understanding, after a year that seemed to lack it. And what better way than serving an insane number of latkes, giving out bags of gelt, and letting my kids tell the story of Hanukkah over and over? Each of those nights, as my husband flipped potato pancakes, I would scan the first floor of our house and see neighbors and school friends. There were pals that I swam with from Fluid Movement, and families we have celebrated with every year since bringing them into our FOJ orbit (that’s Friends of Jews). Nate, who is besties with my twins, Zeke & Gideon and is not Jewish, came over every single night. By the end, he was schooling people on the proper way to light the menorah.
Our house smelled like oil for hours after everyone left and I would survey how many more boxes of latke mix we needed for the next evening (we’re not that crazy to make homemade latkes for that many people . . . but we do go to a latke party every year where we always bring our famous potato artichoke, and feta latkes). And while people would thank us, I always felt like they were the ones gifting us. By being interested in our holiday. By asking question. By spinning the dreidels. By introducing their kids to something that was different than what they celebrated. All it took was a simple post on Facebook. After last year’s celebrations, my friend Kelly called me the helper candle of the community. That’s one of the kindest compliments I have ever received.
This year Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 22nd. While I know that week will be busy for our friends with Christmas activities, we will for sure be opening up our home again after the 25th. So come on by.
CHARMED HOLIDAYS 2019
Want other holiday stories and ideas? Check out our 2019 Charmed Holidays guide!