Peaches Prattlings

{December 13, 2017}   Happy Chanukah 2017

Tonight at sundown, we begin to celebrate the Festival of Light, also known as Chanukah.

You might also know it as Hanukkah, however you say it or spell it, the meaning is the same. This is the festival of lights, a great miracle happened here. Let’s talk about the miracle.

When Antiochus IV was in power, he took to less than pleasant activities towards the Jews and the desecration of the temple. When the Jews went in to the temple for the rededication, they found enough oil to light the lamps for one night and a great miracle happened there and the oil burned for eight nights!

And that, my friends, is why we celebrate Chanukah for eight nights, why we call it the Festival of Light and why treats that are traditional are fried in oil. There is a theme here!

Oh, the treats! Potato latkes, you might know them as potato pancakes. There are different ways they can be made, regular potato, sweet potato, with scallions, served with apple sauce or sour cream. The Sufganiyah, the fried jelly donut covered in powdered sugar. Anything fried, it’s the frying in the oil that’s important.

We play games, like dreidel, it’s a square top with Hebrew letters. We play for matchsticks, candy, gelt, which are chocolate coins. The traditional explanation of this game is that during the time of Antiochus’ oppression, those who wanted to study Torah (an illegal activity) would conceal their activity by playing gambling games with a top (a common and legal activity) whenever an official or inspector was within sight. Each letter tells you how much you’re going to get out of the pot or have to add to the pot.

The magical part of Chanukah? The tradition of lighting the candles in the menorah. Now, all menorahs are different, some are more traditional, some even use oil to keep very much with tradition. The important thing are the prayers, lighting the candles from right to left, one candle added for each night. There are nine candles, one for each night and the shammus, this candle lights all the others and it is set either slightly away from the others, higher from the others, you just know this is the candle to light the others.

And yes, there are gifts, but that is not what’s important about the holiday. Gift giving is at each person’s discretion. As kids, our big family gift was tickets to see The Nutcracker Ballet at Lincoln Center in New York City. Then we would get little things each night, just something to open, but it is a nice sight to see the menorahs lit, the gifts lined or piled up and family playing together and really just spending the time together, that is what is most important, knowing what the holiday is about and enjoying in each other’s company.

My family has a few menorahs, my favorite family menorah, one that was made by a family friend, HT, it’s hand made and it looks like his arms are stretched out with the holes for the candles in each arm. I have my own collection of menorahs, I can’t wait to get them out of storage one day! Oh, when I have them all lit up, what a glow and feeling of love and warmth.

Oh, one more tradition, my mom would read us one story each night from The Power of Light, stories by Issac Bashevis Singer. As adults, GES and I realized some of these stories are not that happy, but they are important and my favorite, The Parakeet Named Dreidel.

When young David and Mama and Papa are celebrating Hanukkah one frosty winter evening in Brooklyn, Papa sees a parakeet sitting on the window ledge. He lets the parakeet in and everyone is delighted to find that it speaks Yiddish. They name it Dreidel and it becomes part of their family. Many years later, when David is in college, he is at a party one night and tells Dreidel’s story―only to discover that Zelda, a young woman at the party, owned the bird herself as a child. Papa and Mama are worried that they will have to give their beloved pet back, but then David and Zelda decide to get married after college, and everyone agrees that they should take Dreidel with them as they start their own family. Isn’t that wonderful?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my wonderful holiday of Chanukah, maybe one day you’ll celebrate and light the lights with me!

Chag Sameach!


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