Written on 12/1 – the first night of Chanukah. Posted on 12/2.
Tonight, our family will light the first candle on our menorah (or Hannukiah) to mark the beginning of Chanukah.
Caleb and Sadie, like many Jewish children in modern times, are being raised in an inter-faith household, so they celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas. Fun for them, and for Mateo and I who truly love celebrating both holidays.
Having been raised in a culturally (as opposed to a religious) Jewish family, I look forward to this time of year, for the potato latkes (potato pancakes) that my oldest sister Niki makes in her home at our annual Chanukah celebration, and for being with my family. Our family traditionally gathers together during the cold, winter season to create a warm and loving environment…and to eat latkes with sour cream and apple sauce!
Fights break out around the table over who already has had their fare share of latkes fresh out of the hot oil, and who is entitled to another helping (this, while Niki and helpers produce a never-ending supply of latkes in her kitchen). As I elbow my way to the table, I just love to dollop equal amounts of sour cream and apple sauce on my latkes. Others have a preference for one over the other, but I love both. This is one of Mateo’s favorite “eating holidays”, as he calls it – mainly because of Niki’s fabulous latkes and the warm, crazy, loud, and loving family experience we all create. We truly have Niki (and now her children) to thank for being the Jewish tradition cheerleader in our family. She has done an amazing job at helping to keep the holiday traditions going, and for educating us about the origins of each holiday.
If you don’t already understand what Chanukah is all about, I have attached a little history and will follow up soon with a food-filled story of latke cooking adventures with Caleb and his friend Jordan, as two families join together to celebrate Chanukah.
The Story of Chanukah
The joyous festival of Chanukah begins on 25 Kislev of the Jewish calendar. It celebrates two miracles: a great Jewish military victory and a miraculous supply of oil for the Temple.
Chanukah marks the Macabees’ long-ago defeat of the much-larger Greek-Syrian army that had invaded Israel. The Macabees were just a small group of Jews led by Mattathias and his five sons, including Judah Macabee. But they organized themselves into a guerrilla army and, with God’s help, proved stronger than their powerful enemy.
Following the Macabees’ victory, the Jews rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and, once again, were able to worship freely.
Although Chanukah celebrates a military victory, its major symbol — the Chanukah menorah, or hanukkiah — reminds us of the miracle of the oil. As the Jews purified the Holy Temple, they found only one flask of the oil for the eternal lamp — enough to keep it burning for just one day. But a miracle occurred, and the oil lasted eight days and nights until more oil could be brought from afar. That miracle explains why we celebrate Chanukah for eight days and also why Chanukah is called the Festival of Lights.
The Chanukah menorah holds nine candles, one for each of the eight nights and an additional candle that’s used to light the others. One candle is lit on the first night of Chanukah, two on the second night, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night.
Chanukah is a time to celebrate with family and friends, to eat delicious holiday treats, to give gifts (especially to children) and to play the dreidel game.
Happy Chanukah from our family to yours!
Stay tuned for The Amazing Latke Adventures of Caleb and Jordan…