december 2011

Hannukah Lights handpainted silk by Diane Fredgant, available at Northwest Jewish Artists

Oh Hannukah, Oh Hannukah

By Laura Berman Fortgang

Growing up, we were one of the only Jewish families in our school system and in truth, it's not that much different for my kids, but the times have changed. In my day, we did our Hannukah thing and no one really noticed. My children, in contrast, are asked by their classmates to report what gift they received for Hannukah on a daily basis and actually have kids say they are jealous that the holiday last for eight days. Their teachers wonder if I'll be bringing in latkes each year and look at me with eager anticipation so I'll get the hint as this time rolls around.

When I was young, we had an electric menorah that lit up with those familiar orange bulbs. No such gadget has ever entered my home. We have a very traditional menorah now and I love finding beautiful, artisan's candles each year to grace it and help us honor the “festival of light.”
Hannukah is a relatively minor holiday in the scheme of all things Jewish but the commercialization of Christmas and this time of year makes it seem bigger than it is. As a result of this and my kids getting older, their attention and expectation of gifts has became more intense. As a kid, I remember getting socks for Hannukah, which my children would scoff at if dared to suggest such a thing.

‘…the kids bring something from their rooms that reflects their ‘light,’ meaning sharing something that represents who they are.’

A couple of years ago, while I was in seminary, I came up with a new Hannukah tradition in our home to divert my children's focus from the gift-giving aspect of the holiday. Hannukah celebrates the miracle of "light.” When the destruction of the temple, led to a shortage of oil, one night's oil miraculously burned for eight nights--therefore, the eight nights of Hannukah. So, now, on each night of Hannukah, we talk about our “light” and our “gifts.” We focus on one person each night (before opening gifts) and talk about what we see their gifts are and ask them to share how they will share their “light” with us or the world. On the extra nights (since we are five in the family) the kids bring something from their rooms that reflects their “light,” meaning sharing something that represents who they are. They don't always have the patience for mom's ritual, but we do it and they have been caught looking forward to it!

I look forward to each night myself. I like that the kids have to wait 24 hours for their next gift because it seems they actually spend some time with the gift they are given this way. I get to live their anticipation and excitement every night for eight days, which is great fun. (Although the last 12 hours before the first night of Hannukah just about drove me crazy as my daughter inquired about the start of the holiday every fifteen minutes!) I love that my kids know the Hebrew candle lighting prayer even though they have not had formal religious training and that they wait to open their gift one person at a time so they are present to each person's experience. The whole thing may last no more than ten minutes but those rich minutes are creating the memories of Hannukah that my children may write about someday. I hope I'm around to see how their kids' Hannukah differs from theirs.

May the light burn bright within you, too. Happy Hannukah.
(from Laura Berman Fortgang’s blog, December 24, 2008)

fortgangI am an author, veteran life coach (17 years), interfaith minister, biz owner, mom and wife. My new book, The Little Book on Meaning, was published in Spring 2009. This blog was created after finishing the first draft as an extension of the topic. I explore what things mean, what makes a meaningful life and things I just don't understand or make me mad.

Visit Laura Berman Fortgang's blog



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