West Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Chanukah, Hanukkah, Chanukkah, or however you personally choose to spell it, is one of the year’s most joyous holidays in my household.
Often the most well-known Jewish holiday in the non-Jewish world, our Festival of Lights is considered a minor holiday in the web of numerous annual celebrations.
In the eyes of my less religious family, though, Hanukkah holds lots of significance. It’s an eight-day festival of tradition, community, and love, marked with a little bit of gift giving. At my house, we have a Hanukkah bin which we keep in the attic that contains a part of all of our traditions.
The most quintessential Krulewitz aspect of Hanukkah is the menorah collection.
A menorah is a 9-pronged candelabra. The custom is to light one more candle each night using the middle candle (called the shamash in Hebrew) until ultimately all the candles are lit on the final night.
As the years pass, we continue to accumulate more and more menorahs that are representative of different stages in the lives of my family members. I have a ballet-themed menorah from when dreams of being a dancer occupied my mind. My mom has a menorah that’s decorated in the style of the Lake Champlain, Vermont hotel we used to stay at each summer.
My personal favorite is one that I’ve had since birth – a light blue menorah that has a dangly charm picturing a woman and her painting canvas. It’s my go-to for annual use.
Another essential that we keep in the Hanukkah bin is the decoration supply. An eclectic mix of homemade and store bought items, the decor goes up the day before Hanukkah and comes down the day after.
Most notably, we decorate with our assortment of dreidels. A dreidel is a particular type of spinning top that comes with four Hebrew letters engraved or painted on it.
These letters are nun, gimel, hey, and shin, which is an acronym for Nes Gadol Haya Sham. Translated, this means “a great miracle happened there,” and refers to the original Hanukkah story circa the second century BCE.
Similar to the menorahs, we have tons of dreidels that come from a variety of sources. Some are high quality heirlooms, some are inexpensive plastic toys, some play music when you spin them, and some are tokens of different places we’ve visited.
An exceptionally special dreidel is the one I bought in Israel this past summer. When you buy a dreidel in Israel, they use a letter pei instead of shin, meaning “a great miracle happened here,” because the events of the first Hanukkah transpired in Israel.
One last Krulewitz Hanukkah tradition is our extended family celebration.
In 2013, Hanukkah happened to coincide with Thanksgiving. Jewish holidays are based on a lunisolar calendar, different from the Gregorian calendar we use here in America. So the fact that these two holidays overlapped was a rare but exciting event. In order to capitalize on this, my family had our Hanukkah party on Thanksgiving weekend because out-of-town family members were already there.
Ever since that year, we’ve been having the party on Thanksgiving weekend to double-dip into the holiday bucket, despite the fact that Hanukkah hasn’t actually taken place on that weekend in a decade.
I love the way we do it, though. It usually extends the holiday season by at least a couple of weeks, and lets me spend more time celebrating what I find to be the happiest Jewish holiday.
And so, while the actual religious value of Hanukkah may not be totally understood by the masses, any positive recognition of Jewish culture is appreciated. After all, Hanukkah is a time for joy, and that joy deserves to be shared with the world.
Baylee Krulewitz is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.