I know it sounds crazy, but one of my most favorite parts about Hanukkah is the way my hair smells after.
Latkes, or potato pancakes, are a traditional Hanukkah favorite. Whether you're making them or simply eating them, your clothes and hair are guaranteed to smell like them for days. Maybe it's the oil they are fried in. Who knows? For me, it isn't Hanukkah without that little detail.
Hanukkah, which began Friday, is an eight-day Jewish holiday. Also called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel army, and the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting the menorah, a nine-branched candelabra. One candle is lit each night to observe the eight nights olive oil fueled the eternal flame in the Temple of Jerusalem. There was supposed to be only enough oil to fuel the flame for one day, but it lasted eight, thus marking the holiday. The ninth branch on the menorah is where the shamash sits, a candle that is used to light the others.
Hanukkah is celebrated differently by everyone. Common activities include exchanging gifts, eating latkes and chocolate Hanukkah gelt, playing dreidel, and engaging in song, dance and family gatherings.
When I think of my personal Hanukkah experiences, I think of the famous aforementioned latkes, either slathered in sour cream, or, when on a diet, applesauce. I also think of family, candles lit on the menorah and Hanukkah gelt.
Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays because of the presents, naturally, and because it's a time I get to spend with my family. It reminds me of delicious food, snow falling and the cozy feeling winter brings.
I like to think of myself as a Hanukkah baby, because I was born on Hanukkah. the holiday comes at a different time every year so I consider myself lucky to have been born on such a joyous day. My brother also was born on Hanukkah, a day after me, three years later. My mom always tells me the same story of the night I was born. The doctor had asked her what she had to eat that night, and she remembers listing off an assortment of Hanukkah food: latkes, meat loaf, and other favorites, as the doctors gave her a puzzled look.
One of my family's traditions is the annual family Hanukkah party. Started by my grandma many years ago, the family gets together on one of the first nights of Hanukkah and celebrates.
It started off as a small gathering at my grandma's apartment, but since has grown into a celebration of around 50 people. For my grandma, referred to by my mom's boyfriend as the "Empress of Hanukkah," planning the annual party is an innate talent of hers. She begins planning a year in advance, only to make the event the most joyous of the year.
Part of the planning includes buying gifts for the gift game. Commonly referred to as the White Elephant game, each participant chooses a number out of a hat. When their number is called they pick a gift from the pile. They open the gift and can either choose to keep it or trade it. The higher the number, the better the chance you have of picking a gift you like from one of the other participants. Yes, that means you can take someone's gift right out of their hands and give them the one you don't want. The only rule is no crying. This rule has to be enforced again and again.
Previous popular gifts from the gift game have been a singing fish that hangs on the wall, and anything containing chocolate. Over the years some of my favorite gifts I have walked away with are picture frames, numerous pairs of Hanukkah socks (they never get old!) and kitchen ware.
It's always exciting to see what the gift everyone wants will be. There's always one or two gifts that always seem to get "stolen" over and over again. And leave it to my grandma, the Empress, to pick the hottest and most popular gifts on the market!
I'm sure during Hanukkah some people think about the real meaning behind the holiday. Do I ever think about the Temple of Jerusalem? Not really. Or the Maccabees? Nope. Then what do I think about during Hanukkah? I think about how lucky and blessed I am to have such wonderful family and friends to share the experience with. I think about how much it means to me when my friends that celebrate Christmas go out of their way to say, "Happy Hanukkah!" I think of all of the Jewish people around the world, lighting the menorah together and saying blessings. I think about how important it is to feel full in life. By that I don't just mean full by latkes, I mean full by family, friends and love. So much love you could burst at the seams. (And so many latkes, you literally are bursting at the seams!)
Whether you're lighting a menorah this year or putting lights on a Christmas tree, I want to extend my holiday greetings to you. May you be full of food, friends, family and love this season.