HANUKKAH: CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM
By MONICA J. O’DESKY
Hanukkah was a mixed bag in our house as it is in many households. I don’t think anyone in the family really knew what we were celebrating and, most likely, if not for the proximity to Christmas, probably would not be having a Hanukkah celebration at all. It wasn’t until I was much older that I discovered in other countries, notably Israel, Hanukkah was somewhat of a non-event! Just as Christmas has been taken over by American culture, so has Hanukkah.
We celebrated in a rather Christmas-y fashion: a big dinner with family and exchanging of presents. Until I was in my 20s, my family, including brother, sister, and their kids, all lived within 15 minutes from each other in the Midwest so a family gathering was easy to do. Somewhere in the process I realized I was getting the short end of the stick with presents as my brother and sister both had children and I did not so I was definitely giving more than receiving. At some point we decided to restrict the gift-giving greatly and simply get together for the dinner; definitely a better plan for me!
There were some of the usual Hanukkah trappings around…the 9-stemmed candleholder which we, as most, mistakenly called a menorah. I did not learn until I was probably 50 that it is correctly called a Hanukkiah! We lit the candles every night, reciting the candle blessing, although some nights we lost count and in any Hanukkah we may have the sixth day twice…or maybe the fourth. Either way, seeing those candles burning down made it feel like Hanukkah and not just another day. I never felt we were missing out by not having a tree, the flashing lights, or any of the other Christmas trappings. It just never occurred to me to miss it.
Now with my family here in Texas, we celebrate in much the same way, looking at Hanukkah as a celebration of freedom. We light the candles, overeat the food, and smile at the large inflatable dreidel (top) sitting on the kitchen counter. It’s a good reason to get together and appreciate the love we have and the gifts we have been given, particularly since they come in the form of a gorgeous sunrise and not necessarily something delivered by Amazon.
Monica J. O’Desky is cantor at Abilene’s Temple Mizpah