Chanukah: What this Holiday Means to Me

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As part of this series on winter holidays--a wonderful way to help your kids learn about other cultures and traditions--Cafe Amy proudly spoke with me about Chanukah and why it's one of her most meaningful celebrations. It's an observance steeped in rich Jewish tradition, one we should all know about. Happy Chanukah!!!

When is Chanukah?

It is always the same day on a Jewish calendar, but the Jewish calendar is not the same as the one we follow in our every day life—so unlike Christmas, which is December 25th every year, the date we begin to celebrate Chanukah changes from year to year. It usually falls in December. This year it starts at sundown on Sunday, December 21st and goes on for eight nights.

What is it the celebration of?

After years of being told they could not practice their religion and being both oppressed and massacred, the Jews had fought and finally won control of their Temple. In their temple they wanted to light a menorah (or candelabra) which typically burns every night; however, there was only enough oil for one night. Miraculously, the oil for one night burned for eight nights. We also call Chanukah the "Festival of Lights" for this reason.

What are the traditional symbols?

The menorah. It is a candelabra with a candle for each of the eight nights, and a ninth candle called the shammus. The shammus is the candle we use to light all of the other candles. Also there are dreidels, potato latkes cooked in oil (also known as potato pancakes), and Chanukah Gelt (chocolates made to look like coins which children not only eat but sometimes use to play a dreidel game.) There is a prayer that we say every night when we light the menorah.

How do you celebrate it with your children?

Each night we'll light the menorah with different family members or friends and we'll give the kids a gift each night. On the last night we are having a big Chanukah party where they will play games with their cousins and celebrate!

Why is the holiday special to you?

This holiday allows me to reflect on the great price my ancestors have paid to ensure my religious freedom. But it is also a time of family unity, as we make sure we can all stand around the menorah together for eight nights to celebrate.

To talk to other moms about this special holiday apply to the Jewish Moms group on CafeMom. Also check out Big Kid Buzz for more on other winter holiday celebrations Yule and Kwanzaa.

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