I love Chanukah. I can’t wait for the holiday to begin. Why do I love it so much? Funny, but it’s for reasons you might not expect. First, I love Chanukah because it is such an easy holiday. In contrast to Rosh Hashanah or Pesach, there is very little planning that needs to go into Chanukah. What a gift. Just take out the menorah, light the candles, and...it’s Chanukah.
I also love Chanukah because of the requirement that the candles are not to be ‘used,’ but ‘enjoyed.’ What it means in practical terms is that for the 7 or 8 minutes it takes for the candles to burn down, we are required to STOP, to just sit and enjoy, to reflect in the reflection, and glow in the glow of the beautiful candles.
In some ways I wish it could happen every day of the year, but what makes Chanukah special is that 8 nights in a row the family gathers together and visits - no TV, no homework, no dinner. Just family, candles, and time. It’s not even a long time. But a ten-minute evening ritual can be a wonderful moment in time.
Oh, you say, but I forgot to mention the presents! Yes, let’s talk about presents for a moment. I am certainly not against presents. How wonderful that we take time to think of others and offer and receive gifts from them. But eight nights is a lot of nights. How might we approach this gift-giving holiday without being overwhelmed by consumerism? A couple of ideas. One, we might put a $5 limit on all gifts. That forces everyone to be clever in their approach to thinking about gifts. Or, how about a $1 limit on the first night, $2 on the second night, up to $8 on the eighth night?
Another possibility: different kinds of gifts for each of the nights. One night can be a gift you buy, one night can be a gift you write, one night can be a gift you bake, and so on. Need more ideas? How about a gift-of-self night (non-money items such as cleaning a room, or a no-fighting-with-siblings night); a tzedakah night (everyone finds some clothes or toys and wraps them as a gift to a social service agency), a book or poem night where everyone reads a favorite passage, or a gift-you-make night.
Here’s an idea for the third night: give yourself the gift of an adult Chanukah and come to the Latkes & Vodkas celebration sponsored by Federation at the Guilford Yacht Club.
And the fourth night gift: bring the whole family to our Chanukah Dinner, Latkes & Menorah-lighting here at the synagogue.
Chanukah is fun but its message is more important than ever. It is a message of spreading light in a time of darkness, celebrating religious freedom rather than religious coercion, and living with hope rather than fear.