Sunday, December 2, 2012

How we celebrate Chanukah

Every family has different traditions for what they do for Chanukah. Many come from what the parents families did in the past. As converts, we get to figure out our own traditions.

Every night, just after sundown, we light the menorah (a candelabrum with 9 branches - space for 9 candles). The only night(s) this is different is on Shabbat. When Chanukah is over Shabbat then we light the menorah candles before we light our Shabbat candles. Part of Shabbat is to not kindle a fire (that is work, and we abstain from work on Shabbat), so once the Shabbat candles are lit, we cannot light a fire, which includes lighting the Chanukah candles. After we light the shamash, we say the blessings for Chanukah, then we light the rest of the candles in the menorah.

Everyday we light more candles on the menorah. One night one we light the shamash (helper) candle and then one candle for the menorah. One night two we light the shamash and two menorah candles. On night three we light the shamash and three menorah candles. We increase the number of menorah candles by one each night, for eight nights.

After the menorah is lit we sing songs and eat (it's never a Jewish holiday with food). Because Chanukah is the story of the rededication of the Temple and the miracle was that the oil burned for 8 days when there was only enough oil for one, fried foods are popular for Chanukah munchies. Jelly doughnuts and latkes (potato pancakes) are the usual foods of choice. YUM!

Next the kids usually insist on playing dreidel. That is a game with a spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each of its four sides. All together the four letters mean "A great miracle happened there" (meaning the miracle of the oil). During the game the letters tell the player what to do. Landing on one letter means the player who spun the dreidel gets all the "money" in the pot (we use chocolate coins, try keeping the kids from eating all the "money" before the last night of Chanukah, it's not an easy task and we usually end up having to bring out the jar of pennies), another letter means the player has to add money to the pot. Yes, it's a gambling game but the kids still enjoy playing.

Next we come to tzedakah (charity). Before we do our own gift exchange, we encourage the kids to contribute a little something to tzedakah. They are going to be getting some nice gifts but there are many people who cannot even afford to feed their families. We may not always have a lot, but we have more than many and we shouldn't feel burdened to give to those who need help, but we should feel happy to give. We put our money in our family tzedakah box and after Chanukah we will donate the money to a charity with which we all agree.

Then we come to the gifts. Exchanging gifts at Chanukah is actually a fairly new tradition. Traditionally, the only "gift" giving associated with the holiday was the giving of gelt (a small token of money). However, since Chanukah falls around the same time as Christmas, many have expanded the traditional giving of gelt to giving of gifts.

Gift giving in our house comes at levels. Nights one through four are all small and inexpensive gifts (usually less than $3.00 each). On nights five and six the gifts get a little better and there are usually a few more as family and friends have also sent gifts to the children. On night seven the kids exchange gifts they bought for each other. Finally, on night eight, each child gets their "big" gift.

Once we get to the gift part, we usually lose all the attention of the kids. They just want to play with their new toys and games. LOL They are kids after all.

I am almost as excited about Chanukah as the kids!

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