There’s nothing like the smell of hot apple cider on the stove, warmed up and waiting to go down smooth. The chill in the air contained to the outdoors, while frost coats the glass on the windows, straight from out of a Norman Rockwell painting. My fuzzy pajamas on all day long because there’s nothing else to do, so why not be comfortable? Lazy December days are the absolute best, especially when there’s something to look forward to on the horizon. Or a few somethings.
I am not Jewish, nor have I ever been. I want to put that out there straightaway so you’re not confused while reading this. But tonight I am rustling up my electric menorah, my four dreidels, my imitation chocolate gelt, and my imaginary Mensch On the Bench (why should the Elf have all the fun?) because tomorrow starts the eight crazy nights that constitute the least of the major Jewish holidays — Hanukkah.
While Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah have the fancy traditions, the pomp and circumstance, Hanukkah checks in as the “cool” holiday because it coincides pretty closely most times with the Christian idea of Christmas. It’s the reason so many say Happy Holidays now instead of Merry Christmas this time of year, so it has some cache. And more and more stores are stocking Hanukkah merchandise (good luck trying to find a pair of white pants for Yom Kippur, fellas).
There’s just something about Hanukkah that’s easy, that’s laid back like this time of year is anyway, something that helps it mesh perfectly with the idea of lazy, comfortable winter. The traditions are still there, but unlike Yom Kippur it’s not about giving up things, but instead about embracing miracles and celebrating the supernatural. It’s not often that we get a chance to celebrate the supernatural, to really focus on the Almighty’s gifts to us and to our ancestors.
And unlike Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah is an ongoing celebration, for eight crazy nights, with so much that happens within its framework that it’s easy to think it will go on forever. Every single year, on the eighth night, I always think about how short it really felt, about how much I want it to keep going. Because, unlike the other high holy holidays, it’s a playful event, a chance to let our hair down and be ourselves while feeling the spirit at the same time.
Lexi likes to light the candles with me, to say the prayer that starts off each night. This year I’m going to teach her the ancient Hebrew words so that she can start to feel just how ancient these traditions are, how deep their roots. That’s what I love the most about Hanukkah — its accessibility. Lex has been following the tradition with me for five years now, and we both look forward to this time of year for more than just Christmas. I love that I have in my child a kindred spirit who has embraced the traditions as I have.
So tomorrow it begins again, the shamash, and the eight nights, and the celebration of the oil, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.