Even in the wake of the cold, wintry mix weather we've been having lately, when Hanukkah began Wednesday at sunset I immediately felt a sense of warmth. The holiday brings a ray of glowing light to an otherwise dark, winter month. Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays of the year, and whenever it starts I become excited to think about ways I'll be celebrating with family and friends.
Some of you may remember my Hanukkah column from last year, featuring my grandmother, dubbed the "Empress of Hanukkah," and her annual Hanukkah party that grows each year.
Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel army. The holiday, also referred to as the Festival of Lights, honors the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
I also described some of my personal experiences associated with Hanukkah: my hair smelling like latkes, a traditional holiday favorite; lighting the menorah, a nine-branch candelabra where one candle is lit each day of the holiday; being born on Hanukkah; and snow falling.
Although those things still apply this year, I've learned that Hanukkah means something different to me each year. Whenever it comes around again it signifies that another year has passed and that I'm another year older and hopefully wiser. (This topic can be debated, I'm sure.) I don't cringe at the thought of getting older; to me, each year lived is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated. I celebrate life - of friends, family and myself - when I celebrate Hanukkah.
When I was little, my brother and I were only allowed to open one gift on each night of Hanukkah. My mom arranged this plan very strategically; she separated and organized each gift from friends and family members to make sure we had at least one, and only one, on each of the eight nights. Sometimes, there would be more gifts than originally planned for, and my brother and I would be allowed to open two or three gifts in one night. As you could imagine, this was very exciting to us, though we felt like we were cheating the holiday. We got to choose which gifts to open on which nights. I remember choosing the odd-shaped gifts first, because they were less likely to be books or board games. Just like actor Adam Sandler sings in his first Hanukkah Song, "Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights."
Sandler's Hanukkah Song, all versions, bring a smile to my face without fail every time they're played on the radio before or during Hanukkah. No matter where I am when I hear the song, I turn up the radio as loud as it will go, which probably has something to do with the blown-out speakers in my 1996 Toyota Corolla. The song helps remind me that I'm not alone in thinking Hanukkah is an amazing holiday, and that I'm not alone in celebrating it. I think I speak for many of my friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, when I say Sandler created a classic with those songs.
Hearing Hanukkah songs and recalling childhood memories help get me into the holiday spirit each year. To get ready for the holiday I put my menorah on display, and research new Hanukkah foods or cocktails to try, such as the Hanukkah gelt martini, which sounds intriguing.
Getting back to my topic, Hanukkah means something different to me this year than it did last. I am forever grateful I have wonderful family and friends to spend the holiday with. I'm grateful for the family Hanukkah party and the joy it brings. I'm grateful for latkes - who doesn't like fried potato pancakes? But most of all, I'm grateful to grow with each passing year, and to recognize that next year when Hanukkah comes around again I'll have learned a little something more.
So this year, when I light the candles surrounded by loved ones, and open presents that may be books or board games (which I like now that I'm older), I'll think about the past year and what I've learned. And I'll also think about the year to come, and try to imagine the things I have yet to learn.
Citing Sandler's song again, "Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Hanukkah!"
To everyone: I wish you a happy holiday and happy new year. Next year, may you be a little wiser than this year.