Pretty audacious, right? well, i am tired of tiptoeing around what is right & wrong with how to celebrate Hanukkah. i grew up in Vermont with two parents, my father is Jewish & my mother converted. we grew up celebrating both Christmas & Hanukkah. we got a Christmas tree. perhaps a day or two before Christmas. a day or two after Christmas, my mother would strip the tree bare & pitch it over the side of the deck. we would light candles for Hanukkah. as far as the celebration of each holiday–Christmas won, hands down.
In the 1970s, we lived in a 100 year old house in the country. A few days before Christmas, the five of us would walk (trudge) through the snow in search of the perfect tree. My father would cut it down & we’d drag it back home. We would open boxes of decorations, watch my father string the lights. we would string popcorn & watch all the Christmas cartoons we could find on our three channel television. Hanukkah…was my father getting down his old brass Menorah & say the Hebrew prayers while he lit the candles. We would spin dreidels. Yawn. Being a Jewish kid during Christmas…well, it’s the toughest part of the year. Christmas is a huge party, everything shines & sparkles. But as a Jewish kid? YOU.ARE.NOT.INVITED. I’ve heard from Jewish friends, “Well, we celebrated Hanukkah without decorations when i was a kid, AND.I.GREW.UP.JUST.FINE!” (bullshit, it sucked & you know it & you yelling? proves it) Christmas wasn’t always the way we celebrate it today. Christmas has changed with the times & the people. As does everything in this world-except Hanukkah.
First a little history on Christmas-
The first ‘Mass of Christ’ was celebrated in 336AD, by Emperor Constantine. A few years later, Pope Julius 1 made it official. In earlier times, ancient pagan Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice–Midwinter festivals called “Saturnalia” or “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” meaning the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered SUN‘. To pagans, the winter Solstice meant that winter was over (unless you lived in Vermont-winter is over in May) & spring was coming. A celebration to worship the sun for winning over the darkness of winter. How easy it was for the early Christians to give it new meaning, ‘to celebrate the birth of the SON’?
The Jewish FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS-Hanukkah starts on the 25th of Kislev (Hebrew calendar) Jesus was Jewish, so perhaps this might be a reason to celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. Changes. People changed things to suit the times. (except for Hanukkah) More changes to Christmas happened during the Middle ages, Evergreens had special meaning & ancient (druids? pagans? Cold people?) people hung evergreens boughs over doors & windows. (I would guess it was because after being buried in snow & hardly venturing outside the house would be a bit…disgusting. no bath, no deodorant, woodsmoke, a hundred dinners) in some countries it was believed evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits & illness. In the 16th century, Germany started the Christmas tree tradition…wow. Most people in the U.S. thought the Christmas tree an oddity…meaning pagan. The first Christmas tree recorded on American soil was in 1830 by German Settlers of Pennsylvania. And Santa Claus came to America, i’m sorry, became popular because of a poem written in 1823. The poem was called, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” THEN in 1934 Christmas BECAME Christmas with a song…have you ever heard of it? “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Ok. So i find it extraordinary, that the way we celebrate Christmas today, ONLY came into being less than 100 years ago. so i’ve decided it was time for someone to SHOUT OUT what is the CORRECT way to celebrate Hanukkah. (I also have the nerve to do so, knowing this will be read by about 10 people)
The only thing that has ever changed about Hanukkah is the spelling of it.
There are 16 ways of spelling Hanukkah. I have been spelling it the same throughout this babbling post because this spelling is how the Library of Congress spells it. Also the number of hits recorded for each spelling is pretty interesting…
Hanukkah: 8,470,000 hits, Chanukah: 3,390,000 hits, etc. Look it up, pretty crazy. The only way it hasn’t been spelled differently is in Hebrew. I find it embarrassing that we cannot agree on how to spell the holiday.
It is the Festival of Lights. a story about war & the desecration of a Temple & oil. Oil. Hanukkah is about fried food & lighting candles. Instead of our homes smelling of evergreens, it smells like McDonalds for a week. I hope i’m not making people mad. If i am…
i am sorry. It is not my intention to get rid of what we have & what we do, to Celebrate the Miracle/festival of Lights. I would like to make it special for children. I would like it to be more than dreidels, latkes, donuts & Menorahs. I love these things, but it can be changed without turning it into Christmas. Because that is what people are afraid of. I’m going to point out rules & justifications for all the things i’d like to add. And most of all, I’d love to hear people expanding ideas of their own. I LOVE lighting the candles with my children. Each of my three kids has their own Hanukkah Menorahs.
The elephant belongs to my oldest daughter because of ROLL TIDE football…AKA University of Alabama Football
My son’s Menorah is a black motorcycle.
My youngest daughter has two. We found a set of matching Hanukkah things at TJMaxx one year. When she was older she wanted to choose her own. it is the very artsy one seen in the picture above the elephant Menorah…
“And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.”
Light…how can that be, when it was the fourth day in which He created the Sun & Moon? I believe it was the Spark of creativity. We’ve all seen a cartoon character with a light bulb over his head, when he comes up with a great idea. AND we’ve all felt it at some point or another, these ‘sparks’ seem to come from nowhere. Because i’m an artist, i feel the spark quite often, because i come up with my own art projects for my students & myself.
If Hanukkah is the “Festival of Lights”…then this is the way to expand on the Celebration of Hanukkah. I am a lover of natural light, as a photographer & a watercolorist, light is the most important element of everything i see. Without it? We see nothing. When anyone walks into my kitchen, as i’m about to show you…it is obvious that i love playing with light
i found this HUGE Christmas ornament at a craft store after Christmas. I paid .99 cents for it. My art kids love it. I call it my disco ball. The kids have asked me where i found it, because they want one for their homes too. About half of my art kids are Jewish. When I tell them it was on sale after Christmas. The Jewish kids would become upset b/c i said the word Christmas, which means to them, “I cannot have a Christmas ornament” I’ve said this so many times over the years AND plan on continuing these words to all my art class kids, “As artists, we can create new ways of looking at things. This is only a Christmas ornament, if it hangs on a tree & because it does not. Its called a disco ball” smiles return. I show them other Christmas ornaments i have in the art studio. I found some old cameras intended to hang on a tree. But i cut the strings off & put them on my bookshelves, so NOW they are art room/photographer decorations i keep out all year long. BTW, red & green are NOT CHRISTMAS COLORS–i heard one student telling another “red & green are Christmas & blue & white are Hanukkah” i said, “so a red rose is Christmas? Strawberries are Christmas?” She giggled & said, “No, silly!” I said, “people use those colors a lot for their holidays BUT we can use any color we want to create art”
i told all my artists that i would buy them all disco balls when the Christmas stuff comes out in November. Sitting on the table, on the photo above, is a bowl full of disco balls. this photo (above) is my prism. i bought it at an educational store for teachers. it gives me big rainbows. i tell the art students that if light is broken by the prism, it creates rainbows, just like rain drops falling in sunlight. the photo below…the rainbow landed on my white/lavender flowers. Rainbows may now be thought of as gay pride, but they are not to Children, they are magic. God made the first one for Noah, remember?
The big diamond paperweight gives me hundreds of tiny rainbows. you might be wondering about the white rabbits…i buy them at Leaf & Petal every Easter, just a few at a time, to put on my windowsills. Why? Well, I loved the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland–the beginning of ‘what if’ which is a type of creation, isn’t it? And Rabbits & bunnies are not Christian.
my white hydrangea blossom colored by a rainbow.
My decorating rules for Hanukkah:
Things that are labeled Christmas but are NOT for Christmas, but for WINTER, can be used as Hanukkah decorations. Anything that reflects light. We are celebrating the light. But where do they go, if not on a Christmas tree? Why not decorate our windows? I also buy ANYTHING i find for Hanukkah in stores, because the shop took a risk in buying something for just a few of us, the least i can do, is repay them for their thoughtfulness.
glitter your dog
what about owls?
disco balls with star ribbon
garden art? These would look awesome in our windows! These are at Leaf N Petal in Mountain Brook Village
colorful balls in a bowl-rainbow theme
what about a few of these? Filled with shiny things or dreidels?
anything that reflects light
a reflecting egg thingy?
i’m lucky because my mom is a fused glass artist…
buying mirrors. at craft stores, they sell them as tiles or in circles, kids can tuck them on windowsills behind things or or glue them together with a string in between & hang them up.
Anything that changes our lives from the mundane and gives us ALL something to look forward to. A way to SHINE is needed by everyone, no matter their faith.
We should all use our imaginations to come up with ideas. Creating can be done in a million POSITIVE ways…if your ideas come with a spark, then i do believe that it brings me closer to God. Art can make time irrelevant, which means you are living in the present. Living in the present means you see more, feel more, think less about past/future failures. It brings a sense of peace.
Gather the family together to decide what they’d like to do in order to make Hanukkah a Grand Event. Chose colors for wrapping paper–yes, blue/ white/silver is usually Hanukkah paper, but the light can make rainbows, you could use any color. Chose a winter animal to spray white & glitter it to a silver shine. String popcorn & hang from a stick, in front of a window to look like snow. String white lights around windows for night time shine. buy prisms, crystals, colored glass to put on windowsills. collect dreidels every year & date them. Display them. Buy tons of Hanukkah gelt, use the gold tinfoil to create new decorations. Buy big white flowers that look like snowballs or baby’s breath to look like tiny flakes–anything that is different from the everyday.
find a place to display Hanukkah gifts, with pretty candles waiting for the first night of Hanukkah to begin
the gifts above are wrapped in all the old paper…to get rid of it. this year i’m going in search of silver paper & each child will have his/her own color ribbon. The kids get to choose one gift to open each night. usually it was something super simple like socks, but with gift cards or money in each gift. My kids are older, they don’t want toys.
Make sure to buy Hanukkah stuff you find. Support your local businesses. Take your children up to the Christmas decorations to find snowflakes & animals to hang like a mobil from a curtain rod in front of your windows. or hang them from a stick….
I will post craft ideas for the next few weeks. I hope you check back to see how to make something like me or to make it your own way…
These birds can easily be turned into doves. I made these with Christmas wrapping paper for the kids who celebrate Christmas…i’ll show you how later.
The first photo of the bear was a Hanukkah book i was working on with my friend & Rabbi…I thought the scarf was a damn good idea, i wonder if anyone could knit one? The hat on the bear is an upside down dreidel. someday i hope we finish it & maybe the story will be a good one.
It is a time to be creative, to step outside the humdrum of the everyday.
(AND yes, i realized after i painted it, the empty space in the Menorah is the wrong side.)
Celebrate the “festival of Lights” by playing with the Sun-bounce light, reflect it, spin it, change it into colors, put colored glass in front of it. Celebrate the “Unconquered Sun” as it has been done thousands of years before Christmas & Hanukkah came into being.
Celebrate light & love this Hanukkah AND i do hope you have NO GUILT when you walk up to the Christmas ornaments & grab the shiny snowflakes…just remember it isn’t a Christmas ornament if it’s not on a tree. You own it.
The best thing you can make for your children are memories. Make those shine…
Happy Hanukkah & Merry Christmas ~amy
PS December 25th is a Holiday no matter what your faith. If you don’t celebrate Christmas…it is STILL a special day because very few people work–a day off together is cause enough for celebration! If your kids are young this is easy enough-Build a tent city in your living room & watch movies. Or buy a new board game every Christmas to open. Lego sets–anything that can be done together as a family. JUST MAKE IT SPECIAL!!! because it is.