I am personally blessed to be a member of a “multi-cultural family” and we celebrate our differences. The best way for me to describe this special relationship is to educate what I am celebrating.
Chanukkah begins Wednesday, December 1 at sun down and is observed for eight days. It is a Jewish holiday best known as the ‘festival of lights’, referring to the flames on the candles. It is not the Jewish Christmas; in fact it is not a very important religious holiday, but a celebration of a victory. A profound faith and loyalty to God which helped the Jewish people win over the forces of darkness.
The significance of Chanukah goes back to Alexander the Great. After he conquered Palestine, Egypt and Syria he allowed the people to continue on with their personal beliefs and life styles. History tells us it was 165 BCE when Antiochus IV took control of the region and began to massacre the Jews, prohibiting them to practice their religion and destroying their houses of worship. Why, he wanted them to put aside their ancient religion and pray to idols. The Jews of the nation joined together, led by Judah the Maccabee. When they reached the top of the mountain overlooking Jerusalem they revolted and reclaimed their independence.
Tradition tells us at the time of the rededication of the Temple there was very little oil left. It was needed for the candelabrum (Menorah) in the Temple which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was just enough for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, just enough time to prepare a fresh supply of oil.
Chanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil, not the victory over the oppressors.
Traditionally fried foods are eaten during the holiday because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Potato pancakes ‘latkes’ are a traditional offering.
As a child it was expected that my grandparents would give me “gelt” small amounts of money. Usually this ‘gelt” was in the form of gold papered chocolate candy coins, We would play a game with a top called a ‘Driedel’. It is marked with four Hebrew letters, Nun (nothing) Gimel (take) Hei (half) and Shin (put in) and depending on where the Driedel stopped you would follow what the letter said. When the pot was empty, everyone puts in something. When one person has won, stop, divide the winnings and the game is over. Everyone wins, no one loses. But the winner, in my house, always gets a higher sum of money then the other members.
Each year my special can of Driedel’s appear which I hide each year after we play. I am always amazed me how the children know which driedels are going to be the better ones (go faster). Most of them are made out of wood, some have cost a few cents, others up to $3, and yes, we have many. Some even play music or light up. Next comes out the box of change (yes pennies) that survives one year after the other. You would think we were playing for our lives. The table is surrounded by us all, different ages, different religions, all bound together by being a family.
New traditions are made. We live in a world sharing our customs with each other. There are many who decorate and give presents, just like Christmas. Our world today is a ‘melting pot’ and how fortunate we are to be able to indulge in so many different methods of celebration.
Next holiday is Christmas and more traditions to follow.
Life doesn’t get much better than this.
And the beat goes on!
Merle “Magi” Green is the Editorial Assistant for SRI Newspapers.
The picture is her personal menorah given to her by her daughter many years ago.