Hanukkah truly ‘Festival of Lights’

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This week, the Jewish world is in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah, our Festival of Lights. Though it cannot be called the “Jewish Christmas,” it shares some of the same values of the season. However, each year I find myself falling into the same trap. I say things like, “it is a very minor holiday for us,” or “it is really not about giving gifts,” or “it has only become a big holiday because of its proximity to Christmas.” Indeed, all of those statements are true. But I need to stop apologizing for Chanukah, because, in reality, it really is a big thing. Though Passover and Succot each have their “fun” aspects, no other holiday ignites the imagination like our holiday of lights. Our kids get excited about it.

So perhaps it is time to capitalize on the momentum of this “minor festival.” Since Hanukkah is an eight-night celebration, here are eight things that get the party going!

  1. Eight yummy nights of food. We are commanded to eat fried foods as a reminder of the legend of the oil that lasted a miraculous eight days. Those of us of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) origin eat potato latkes. From Israel comes the tradition of sufganyot, which are jelly filled doughnuts. Warning: There will be lines at your favorite doughnut shop!

  2. Eight nights of religious freedom. Let us remind ourselves that the battle for Hanukkah was about religious freedom. As Jews, we celebrate living in a country where we enjoy that freedom.

  3. Eight nights at home. The ritual of lighting the hanukkiah is enjoyed at home. We don’t have to worry about “social distancing.”

  4. Eight nights of learning. Each night gives us a “teaching moment,” to think about those values that we hold, such as respect for the environment, social justice, helping those in need or freedom.

  5. Eight playful nights. We play dreidel, a game with a spinning top. Make up your own rules!

  6. Eight giving nights. We look forward to getting, but let’s think about it. Who has not enjoyed seeing the response of someone who has received a gift? I like to ask our kids not “what did you get,” but “what did you give?”

  7. Eight singing nights. There are so many traditional songs for Hannukah, but new songs are created every year. Check your streaming services for Hannukah play lists.

  8. Eight creative nights. We light the candles and sing the blessings. And then, let the fun begin. Act out the traditional story, or perhaps create your own “Hanukkah Happening.” Do something “artsy-craftsy,” paint, or perhaps be the next Adam Sandler and make up a new Chanukah song.

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Most important, may we all make the most of the opportunities this holiday provides, using them to have the happiest and most joyous Hanukkah season ever.

Samuel Radwine is the cantor for Congregation Etz Chaim in Bentonville and cantor emeritus of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Email him at [email protected]

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