The very nature of holidays is personal.
We each experience the holidays differently depending on where we live, and we each have different emotional attachments (or not) to Chanukah.
I wanted to ask a diverse group of women in a variety of locations, life phases, and levels of observance about their Chanukah experiences and tips.
They responded to this question:
How do you make eight nights of lighting candles meaningful?
Their responses are my way of showcasing the range of Chanukah experiences. For example, we’ve maintained the individual variations of Chanukah spellings.
The greatest gift we can give to one another is to listen without judgment. Enjoy these wonderful responses!
“My family has been collecting hannukiot for over a century. When we invite people over we ask them to bring their own hannukiahs as well, and we light them all each night. Sometimes there are close to 50 menorahs. While we make sure there is no fire danger, the lights invoke memory, magic, and miracles.”
“I like to make Hanukkah fun by having a latke party! Each guest brings a different fun topping (from traditional sour cream to guacamole to chocolate spread) and I make all the latkes. We set it up buffet style and nosh away!”
“I like to think of the flame as a window to the soul, so above all on Chanukah, I cherish the time after lighting candles when I can sit curled up on the rug and watch the flames dancing. I feel as if my soul is dancing with them, and time stops for a few minutes.”
“We’re a blended family; I’m Agnostic, my husband’s a secular Jew and his boys are a little bit of everything. Even though neither of us is particularly religious, we think it’s important to honor the traditions of our families and we love any excuse to eat fried carbs. On Chanukah, we light a candle each night and recite the blessings. We also enjoy throwing Chanukah parties and inviting tons of friends over for latkes and jelly donuts. We live in Minneapolis – not exactly a stronghold of Judaism. Most of our friends were raised Christian or Agnostic and they love learning the story of Chanukah and joining in!”
“Growing up in the states, Hanukkah was one of my favorite holidays, mostly because of the presents. Here in Israel (where I live now), there is no custom of giving presents, and I still love the magic of the holiday and so do my kids. To make the holiday meaningful, I use the hannukiahs that my kids make in their pre-school. The boys get really excited seeing their handmade projects every night for eight days. We also eat latkes and sufganiyot every night for eight straight days and usually go to friend’s and family’s houses to light candles, making it a very festive holiday.”
“I’m spoiled because my kids still find the novelty of Daddy coming home early to light candles with us and the opportunity to “play with fire” during the week entertaining enough to be engaging! Special foods also help. My children love making homemade latkes with me, and every year before Rosh Hashanah when I make applesauce, my oldest daughter is always concerned with whether or not there will be enough applesauce for the Chanukah latkes three months later.”
“Jewish holidays can seem like they are historic relics with little relevance to our lives today. Yet living in Israeli heightens our connection to these holidays. Every one of them is reminiscent of our present-day reality. Therefore, our candle lighting is meaningful through the simple act of lighting. When we light the candles we are fulfilling the millennia old Jewish dream, and that has the ultimate meaning. That, and eating latkes. There is nothing more meaningful than a perfectly fried potato latke.”
“Here in Sydney, Australia we love the festival of Chanukah. There are several large Chanukah celebrations in parks and shopping malls where the community comes together in counting the nights of the festival. It is so heartening to see the community united and involved in the celebrations. Of course for us Monday Morning Cooking Club girls, it’s all about the food! We love the tradition of fried foods (who needs an excuse!) and invite friends and family over to celebrate Chanukah, serving latkes with smoked salmon and crème fraiche and sufganiyot.”
“You see, the tough thing is, Hanukkah has always been a bit ‘blah’ for me. I grew up in a secular Zionist family in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and we didn’t celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles or any other rituals. I don’t have kids and while one year my husband and I tried doing candles every night, it has never became a ‘thing.’ Right now, I’m trying to inspire myself to light candles for Hanukkah.”
“In order to make Chanukah meaningful, I put a lot of emphasis on including others in the celebration. Many people don’t have a place to celebrate, so it’s nice to include others. Plus we can connect with new people and learn in the process. I also like to include a new tradition every year. It’s fun to challenge my friends and family to come up with something creative that we can all look forward to!”
“To be honest, it isn’t always easy. My children are classic ADHD and impatient about opening their gifts! Some years I’ve made the mistake of letting them open them all at once, just to avoid the nudging. I find that by decorating the house and serving special meals every night it helps to stretch out the holiday properly. We have an electric menorah as well as allowing the kids to each light their own – they are excited every night for that. As my children have gotten older, some of the holiday traditions have waned but they always want to light their own menorahs and open presents before we eat dinner – and some traditions shouldn’t be messed with!”
“On Chanukah, I love to bring out my maternal grandmother Beauty’s (this is what we called her) menorah and china. She was one of the most influential people in my life. Preparing with my kids some of her favorite recipes like sweet potato latkes, salmon patties, and homemade jelly doughnuts, and serving them on the plates she fed me as a child, helps keep her spirit and love shining bright.”
In the comments, tell me how YOU make eight nights of lighting candles meaningful.