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Hanukkah Traditions Past and Present

Hanukkah Traditions Providence Moms BlogWhen I was growing up, Hanukkah was one of my favorite holidays. It was the one that involved family, presents, and food and did not entail spending 2+ hours at synagogue. I always thought of it as the underdog of winter holidays. Though I appreciated and enjoyed Christmas, it was easy to get overwhelmed by it and that made Hanukkah feel like an oasis in a sea of Santa. There are some traditions that I have carried with me throughout my life and are part of my family today and others that are newer traditions we have created together.
Before I get into the traditions, a few sentences about the significance of the holiday. As Adam Sandler tells the tale, it is a holiday lasting 8 crazy nights. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Persians had taken over the area and during their rule, the Jewish people were not allowed to worship. A small band of fighters, the Maccabees, fought against them and reclaimed the Temple. Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights due to the legend that when they retook the Temple they only found enough oil to light the space for one night and it lasted for eight. The holiday generally falls in mid-December, but there have been occasions of Thanksgivukkah or Chrismukkah. Some of the universally celebrated traditions include lighting the menorah (symbolic of the oil lights in the Temple), eating fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), playing dreidel, and getting presents each night.
As a child, I looked forward to Hanukkah every year. My parents got me 8 presents. Presents were not part of the original Hanukkah story, but started as a reaction to Christmas. As a kid, I did not care why I was getting gifts — I was just happy to get them. Most were small such as books or clothing, but there was always one that was larger than the rest. My grandparents always got me the best things, especially my Grandma Frieda who got me a Cabbage Patch Kid off the black market one year (or at least that was the family folklore). We would indulge in latkes at least once or twice. There was a large family party with cousins I only saw once a year and we had to go “all the way” to New Jersey for it. On the fifth or sixth night I would invite my friends over for candle lighting and dreidel. They reciprocated and invited me to their house on Christmas morning.
Hanukkah is still a family favorite. We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas now. I must confess that I do not like it when they overlap. I prefer enjoying each holiday on its own. We light the candles every night and say the blessings. We give out presents the same way, although I try to have one night be the gift of an experience for our whole family – tickets to a show or the promise of an overnight trip. It gives us something to look forward to after the holiday is over. We have plenty of latkes, but I make them now. Rather than go to New Jersey for a party, we host a party for about 15 friends (none of whom are Jewish) to give them a window into our traditions. We play dreidel and get gelt (Hanukkah chocolates). We try to do something related to community service – taking tags from the Gregg’s Giving Tree or making some donations to worthwhile organizations. We also make sure to attend a community Hanukkah event, either at the JCC or our Temple, to remind us how special it is to live somewhere where we can celebrate a Jewish holiday freely.
The Hanukkah candles take about an hour to burn each night. After the presents are opened, I like to take a moment to sit and enjoy the glow. It is a reminder that in the chaos of the holiday season you can always find a small moment of peace as a family. Chag Sameach – Happy Holidays – to all.

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