This year we celebrated Hannukah (spell check tells me I’m doing it wrong, but this is how it was spelled when I was growing up and I have a hard time breaking the habit. The “chabit”?)
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Why we celebrated the Jewish Festival of Lights is not that important, but has to do with work and travel schedules; when we saw how the holiday season was shaping up, I proposed celebrating Hannukah and the kids seemed to think it was a good idea.
So what did we learn?
First of all, as I am the only one in my household who did not attend the Newton Public Schools, I was also the only one who didn’t know the Jewish prayers. Not only that, the kids were pretty articulate about the Hannukah story: Maccabees fighting for freedom, hiding out in a cave and a miracle that the lamp oil lasted 8 days.
Two different friends lent us menorahs and we figured out the proper order to add candles each night, and the proper way to light the candles. It was nice to spend some time together after dinner just doing something intentional with each other. (We’re not complete Luddites, though, Julie tells me that the other night while I was out teaching, the three of them sat together but played games on their individual devices as the candles burned.)
The holiday gave me the motivation to try out a new recipe I saw in the paper, a variation on latkes that are pretty darn delicious.
The kids liked having gifts spread out over a few days, rather than in an orgy of unwrapping. And the truth is, some nights we skipped gifts, other nights they got two things. We weren’t that organized.
But the best thing about Hannukah was the community. We live in a town that has a significant number of Jewish families — maybe a third of the population. No one we spoke to questioned our adoption of the holiday, but rather just offered advice and good wishes. The first night, Julie invited some neighbors over to help us inaugurate Hannukah. They brought a menorah, and also some Chinese grandparents, and dreidels and chocolate gelt to “gamble” with. The gift on that first night was a bottle of root beer each, and with scoops of vanilla ice cream, we had a pretty happy celebration.
Celebrating the holiday gave us a chance to ask other families about their family traditions. I paid a lot of attention to various meals and recipes. I don’t mind cooking, but I get bored and uninspired coming up with meal plans so I’m happy to take on anyone’s holiday meal schedule. I make boiled dinner on St Patrick’s, we have dumplings on Chinese New Year’s and we’ve adopted our Italian in-laws’ tradition of seafood linguine on Christmas Eve. I would have been happy to make latkes every night (and the kids would have been happy eating them.) Please let me know what I should cook next Tuesday.
Another tradition that we liked, was that on the sixth day of Hannukah, one family told us they do not exchange gifts among themselves but choose a charity to make a donation to. The sixth night was the night I was teaching so I came home to find that the kids chose the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem where we adopted our beloved Taco. What a great idea! Certainly the family charitable contribution is a tradition we should keep whether or not we celebrate Hannukah again.
On the last night of Hannukah, we had more latkes, and I built a fire, and we lit the menorah in our cozy porch room. Then we worked on puzzles together from the excellent New York Times supplement last Sunday, read books, drew pictures, strummed a ukulele. I have to admit, it was pretty idyllic, the kind of scene that would be appropriate and welcome for any holiday, and I felt very lucky.