The decorations are out inside our home. The lights are ready to go on inside, versus outside. The table is adorned with menorahs both old and new, passed down from loved ones and bought along the way, a plethora of dreidels to spin and play games with, and arts and crafts projects to create and enthuse, as we begin to celebrate.
Getting this all set up has become a favorite pastime for Sarah and me each year. She gets so excited when I bring out the bin from the garage with our growing collection of old and new keepsakes.
Sarah asked me the other day, “mommy, why don’t we have lights on our house?” She has seen so many on other’s homes covered in white and rainbow colored lights over the years. I explained to her that Jewish people don’t put up lights outside their homes but instead conveyed that our most important lights are those of the menorah, which we light together for eight nights inside our home, and can be seen outside by others.
Before the age of eight, I don’t remember much about the holidays nor lighting of the candles for Hanukkah. My mom was on her own raising three kids doing all that she could. It wasn’t until our family grew and my mom remarried, that I really became engaged in learning more about my religion, thanks to the teachings by my step-father.
We didn't have much more than the menorah lights as decoration around the house. It wasn't because we were without, it was because there was no need for more. That’s all I knew so I never expected and wanted for anything more. Something about that "really old" menorah, that my parents still use to this day, forever connects me to this holiday. I have such happy memories standing in the kitchen wearing a napkin on my head singing the prayer for the holiday lighting the colorful wax candles. Something about it was so simple, yet spoke volumes.
Funny enough, every year, my mom and stepfather would take my sister and me in the car and drive us around what we called “the rich neighborhood" to see the elegant trees, magnificent wreaths and homes emblazoned with lights. It was always a great sight. I appreciated that my folks recognized the splendor of these lights for another’s holiday, even if it wasn't for our own. Together, we appreciated the splendor of it all and always looked forward to doing it each year.
Therefore, after having Sarah I felt that I wanted to introduce some of our own traditions to start her on her way to learning more about her religion. I wanted so much for her to love it as much as I do. So, by adding in some decorations I think it has helped with engaging her early on in her life about what these traditions mean. Not only does this approach put us in the mood, but it also lifts our spirits each time we walk into the dining room when we see something that warms our heart or brings a sparkle to our eyes.
A personal favorite that I treasure most and keep out year round is a yard sale find I found years ago for two dollars – a beautiful unique, teardrop-shaped menorah made in Israel. The owner either didn't know the gem he had or wanted to make sure someone who bought it would appreciate it. Well, the latter is indeed very true.
Another favorite for me, and Sarah as well, is this handmade menorah from her first ever Hanukkah, which I made out of paper and used her footprints to resemble the flickering candles. To this day it always brings a smile to my face, and if you can believe this, it helps to ground me and remind me of life’s simple pleasures.
As parents, it's our job to help guide our children, especially as far as religious and spiritual beliefs go. Therefore, when Hanukkah comes around for us, especially as my daughter starts to gain a better understanding of this holiday, it seems as if more needs to be done on my part, and her daddy’s, to help her see its value, especially beyond the gifts and glamour.
I admit that I often go overboard a bit on presents. However, one thing is true, I never lose sight of doing what I can to help others. And, that selfless act of kindness is what I continue to teach Sarah day in and day out. Therefore, this year, in lieu of one night of presents Sarah agreed to a suggestion I made to take that gift and donate it to PJ Library, so that another child can benefit from the amazing books and CDs they provide children every month for an entire year at no cost to the recipient. I am so proud of Sarah and feel that it’s never too early to teach our children to give back and help others.
So, as the lights burn over these eight days and nights, dreidels spin, fried food gets eaten, and time is spent with loved ones, let's be reminded of the efforts made in our history to create the freedom we now experience today. And, let's celebrate with the lights of the candles as they flicker and be reminiscent of what has been done for us, and what we need to do moving forward to help others.
Eight days and eight nights
The candles flicker and glow
Freedom and giving