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.
I considered myself Jewish. I celebrated the High Holidays in Connecticut and I loved these times because we got to stay with my grandfather. For 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’re yelling? Sort of 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 & 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) 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 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, came into being 195 years ago.
So i’ve decided it was time for me to make some changes in the way my family wants to celebrate Hanukkah.
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.
It is the Festival of Lights. Based on a story about winning a war despite the incredible odds. Judah Maccabee was a Jewish Priest (today would be called a Rabbi) He led the revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Hanukkah/Chanukah is a celebration of winning a war. And also based on a miracle, the oil to light the candles was enough for one day, but the flames lasted 8 days (how long Hanukkah is) It is the only Jewish holiday not in the Torah (5 books of Moses/Old Testament) Hanukkah is about fried food, like Latkes & donuts & lighting candles, one each night. 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 have three children, and Christmas was a nightmare because the kids would ask why they couldn’t do a tree & lights. For that reason, I would like to make Chanukah BIG. I would like it to be more than dreidels, latkes, donuts & Menorahs.
I love these things, but the holiday can be changed without turning it into Christmas. Because that is what some Jewish parents 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 buy very cute animals that have been decorated for Christmas. Then I remove all Christmas things, heat up my glue gun & make these animals celebrate our holiday! I buy blue & white Hydrangea’s because combined they look like Hanukkah. and they’re my favorite!
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 when God said “let there be light” he meant the creative spark of Creation.
If Hanukkah is the “Festival of Lights”…then this is the way to expand on the Celebration of Hanukkah. PLAYING WITH SUN LIGHT & THE CANDLE’S FLAME! I am a lover of natural light, as a photographer & a watercolorist, light is the most important element while shooting images or creating art. Without it? We see nothing. When anyone walks into my kitchen, 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 students 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, it’s called a disco ball” smiles return.
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 their 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.
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, in the spring/summer they live in my garden. 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 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, or shatters it (like the prism). We are celebrating the light. 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 (Jews make up .02 of the world population!), the least i can do, is repay them for their thoughtfulness.
adding mirrors to tables can catch sunlight & bounce it.
disco balls with star ribbon
garden art? These would look awesome in our windows!
fruit or something different…something that comes out with the Hanukkah decorations every year…
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…
Anything that changes our lives from the mundane to excitement. And it 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. Art can make time irrelevant, meaning you are living in the moment (a grand thing, that). Living in the present, 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. Choose 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, snowflakes 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 & blue Hydrangeas 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. This is super tacky, but my kids are so young, it looks like a candy store to them. And that is what Hanukah is for, to bring joy to your children (and other reasons, but none bigger than that)
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. So it is NOT so busy looking.
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 spray paint & glitter.
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…The dreidels below were made by my art class kids.It is a time to be creative, to step outside the humdrum of the everyday. 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. As far as making things, there is the single most important thing you need to make, and that is memories for your children. Make their memories shine.
Happy Hanukkah & Merry Christmas
37 Comments Add yours
Super cool way to celebrate and I love all the ways you have created the projects and how meaning full they are as well as memorable
Hi Babs! Thank you so much for reading this. i love to ramble, can you tell? Love, amy
You’re so correct on the importance of focusing on the LIGHT in the world. Happy Hanukkah!
Thank you so very much! Happy/Merry Holiday you celebrate! ~amy
Thank you so much for your compliment. We all need to realize that there is MORE light then darkness in this world. Light=Love. GOD=Love. At least that is my feelings on the matter. i forget about the thought & remember the faith should be stronger than overthinking everything…oy. Merry Christmas! ~amy
I’m really excited about Hanukkah (spelling?) now too and I’ve never been Jewish. I did know that it was about light and the mennorahs and all but I love the idea of celebrating with all kinds of light. And that mans all kinds of colors too because of light being made up of the colors. And I LOVE colors. So your ideas have inspired me. Deb
WOW, that is very, very cool. You are a woman after my own heart! I’ve always LOVED light. Any reason to celebrate it is a good one! BTW, both my Rabbi’s approved of the ideas i had! ~amy
Growing up I was always jealous of the 8 nights and all I got was one. Today I have a tree and a menorah. In my choosing to believe in a God of my choosing, I’m able to celebrate life, love and humanity my own way. I gave my Catholic raised husband his first Chanukah gift last night after lighting the first candle at sundown, as we do each year. The history of the rainbow in pride celebrations was to include all walks of life in the pride of being whoever you are, not just gay -or- white -or- men. I love that you include it, celebrate life…period. Thanks!
Wonderful comment, thank you for writing it. ~amy
My family are Christian. Sister noted this last weekend she did not put up many lights last year and she missed the light. As I read you post I thought of light and the importance of The Light in our world. Blessings on you for the reminder of the importance of Light. May your Hanukkah be filled with the joy of Light!
The light’s the thing. I’m into photography for my weekly, and the reality of light clobbers me every time I have to think about it, which is often. Your thoughts on the holidays reinforced, for me, how light is essential to awareness. Plus, your images are gorgeous and your rebel thoughts delightful.
Thank you for sharing. I really enjoyed your post. Happy Hanukkah.
Thank you for reading it! Happy Holidays–what ever you celebrate, make it shine! ~amy
Proud to read your thoughts, take joy in your actions and pictures, and marvel at all you are doing about it…Just Awesome!! I was the principal of a Jewish Day School in the 80’s..I will never forget the holiday times and how the kids managed both Hanukkah and Christmas. It was not easy for many of them. You bring such light and hope in our world…go forth, fear not, and laugh often…Take care
What a beautiful comment! Thank you so much. Wow. I really don’t know what to say…that last sentence, “You bring such light & hope in our world” is this how sign off to all your comments? Because its beautiful & seems to have made my brain stop working. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. ~amy
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Hi Amy, no not the way I usually sign off. Those words came to me as I read your blog this am. I believe those words were for you specifically. You brought me into focus today about the real meaning of the holiday season and for all I learned and my treasured moments at the day school and the people who taught me so much during my time there. I’m going to share more with you this evening – on the road today! Shine the light and spread the joy!! Doug
Good on you Amy – keep celebrating
Thank you, Maureen! I wish you happy celebrating this year! ~amy
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Really like your perspective on the holidays and now for some strange reason I find myself wanting a disco ball. 🙂 When I was little I was baby sat by a Jewish family that would feed me thin crackers I liked. I remember feeling sorry for and asking an older boy in the family if he felt bad not having Christmas. He then explained that they got presents for 8 nights which greatly impressed my young greedy mind. 🙂
Happy Hanukkah and/or Merry Christmas Amy.
8 nights of gifts is pretty cool. The kids would suffer all day during school hours in anticipation of opening their one gift. They were so worried they would pick the wrong one-open something lame. So i told them all the gifts are lame, but there is money in every single one. I would tape a five dollar bill around chapstick or tuck $20 into a pair of socks. I had a great time. I would have loved to buy them a million things worth so much more. But i’m a single mom/artist so they are used to pretty lame gifts by now. Thank you for sharing your story with me! I love that ‘young greedy mind’ thought. Merry Christmas, Maverick! AND Happy Festival of Lights. ~amy
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go find a disco ball, nothing rids one of the blues faster than the light shinning from one.
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Was told? No. I once told… (Darn keyboard. Must’ve been designed in Auburn)
Ok, that makes more sense…i do my best editing (if i ever do any) after i’ve posted it & sent it into the stratosphere.
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Don’t we all? 😉
Hanukkah? Christmas? I don’t see much difference. I was told a jewish friend of mine that Christianism was just a Line-extension of Judaism. he laughed and said, no: “You are Judaism-Light”. 😉
A great post. I didn’t know that everyone in the family has their own menorah. Hmmm. But then you are probably Ashkenazi. Another Jewish friend is Shepharadi (Don’t ask me about the spelling) from Spain. Kicked out from Spain, his family went around the entire Mediteranean all the way to Turkey and then to France. Link to the menorah: He still has the key to the (long-gone) family house in Cordoba…
(tell your daughter I approve her football choices…)
A great post Amy. Thank you. And a great week-end to you guys.
(Just a whisper?)
Hi Roll Tide Brian. Your friend said, “You are Judaism-Light” That is the coolest thing ever, after having posted this.I had this idea of making Hanukkah shine as bright as Christmas, because of all my Jewish art students. YOU ARE familiar with Christmas in Alabama, right? There is four seasons…early summer, Summer, late summer & Christmas? I don’t know if other people buy each family member a Hanukkah Menorah of their own or not. Growing up we just had the one. I thought to buy one for each of my children because it made the holiday their own. I do hope more people do so. I knew, when i posted my daughter’s elephant, that YOU would approve. You may shout ROLL TIDE anytime it pleases you to do so. It will just blend in with all the rest. Thank you for reading & educating me! ~amy
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Hi Amy. Yes this friend has a great sense of humour. Probably one the last people to speak fluent Yiddish.
We didn’t have those four seasons then in ‘Bama. Must be the effect of global warming.
Your daughter’s elephant was actually a trigger to memory, I’d completely forgotten about it.
Be good. Or Bad. Have a great week.
really enjoyed this post, but the nitpicker in me wants to note that the clever comparison of “sun” and “son” implies that early Christians spoke English, which didn’t even exist yet. Happy Chrismakwanzukkah!
Hi nitpicker…you may be correct, sir. They would have spoken Latin–you don’t think they would have a way of differentiating the spelling/speaking of Son & Sun? Hmmmm. Happy Festival of whatever light you shine! ~amy
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Your students are lucky to have you. 🙂
AND i am so lucky to have them. They pose so many questions, the kind of questions i have to think about. They’ve turned me into a bit of a philosopher & for that, I QUESTION everything…again? Thank you so much. ~amy
Amy??? YOU ROCK!!!
I am at a loss for words…
You can decorate my home anytime. 😀
Really?! I’m not sure why you say this? Is it because you think i’m crazy? I would love to decorate your house, Reggie! You just need to buy three plane tickets! Thank you…but really i don’t understand you being at a loss for words. Can you elaborate? did i offend? UGH! Help me understand your comment, Reggie! ~amy
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I am not offended in the slightest, Amy – all of it was meant as a wholehearted compliment! I thought it was an absolutely brilliant post.
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Thank you very much for sharing all this, very interesting. You are very creative 😀
Thank you, Irene! I do hope EVERYONE of every Faith can help make Hanukkah cool. ~amy
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