Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
I’ve lived in big cities like Los Angeles, and small towns in the Mississippi Delta. I’ve been part of communities where there are many people celebrating Hanukkah, and where there are only a handful. No matter where I am, I’ve found that certain things really get me in the holiday spirit – so here are my top 10 tips for a happy Hanukkah!
1. Decorate. Whether it is a simple menorah, a thousand lights, or all out-decorating inside and out, decorating makes a difference! I do not come from a family of huge decorators, but I always knew when the holidays were coming when the one plastic tub came down from the top of a closet.
2. Light the Menorah – Every Night. To this day, I can remember the smell of candles, the special glow they give off when the menorah is the only source of illumination in a room, and the sound of my family’s collective voice as we said the prayers. It might take a little effort, but it’s only eight days out of the whole year – light those lights each night!
3. Tell Stories. In today’s world it is so easy for us to feel the rush of day-to-day activities. Hanukkah asks us to stop, spend time with loved ones, and connect with each other. Whether it’s recalling Hanukkahs past, funny family stories, meaningful Jewish memories — take the time to tell.
4. Go To A Party. At Least One. Even If It’s Not a “Hanukkah” Party. This is not the time of year to be alone. In Jewish tradition, community is so important. Even if you are a stranger in a new place let this be a time where you gain a new story in your book of life. I love spending holidays with people that I am not too familiar with because it allows me the chance to see how they celebrate, learn about different traditions, and it naturally brings back some of my favorite holiday memories. If you’re the only Jewish person in town, offer to bring some latkes to the holiday party, or teach folks how to play dreidel. Both will be a hit!
5. But Make Sure You Have Non-Party Nights, Too. As much as it is a blast to party with others, eat amazing food, and possibly get some cool gifts, it is also important to spend some time reflecting, connecting with those closest to you, and focusing on your own traditions. Take time and allow space to remember that some of the most powerful memories we create are not in big crowds but in the quiet moments when we truly listen and appreciate the words of our prayers and what implications they had for our ancestors and for us today.
6. Indulge In Holiday Foods. Over the eight wild and crazy nights of Hanukkah you are bound to taste some less than desirable latkes. Find time, at least once, to make something 100 percent for yourself. Indulge. We spend so much of the year punishing ourselves for the culinary choices we make, allow yourself a time to splurge, at least a little.
7. Talk About Hanukkah – With Everyone! I love talking with my friends of other faiths and backgrounds about Hanukkah, because it helps me to reflect on what this holiday is all about, our collective Judaic traditions, my personal traditions, and creates a space for healthy holiday-themed dialogue about differences.
8. Try Something New. It’s easy to get stuck doing the same thing year in and year out. One of the blessings of Hanukkah is that we get eight shots at doing something different. At least once, do something that will make this year special and different from any other year. Keep it fresh.
9. Maybe Don’t Give Gifts Each Night. It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we need to give gifts every night, particularly if we have children. Before you know it is becomes an expectation. Take the time to celebrate the holiday and traditions without the looming gift over anyone’s head. Remember that Hanukkah is more than giving someone a gift – maybe one night your family can volunteer somewhere, or go on a family field trip, and enjoy time together rather than gift-giving.
10. Create Your Own Tradition. The traditions we inherit are important and keep us connected, but one of the beautiful opportunities we have in life is that we can create our own traditions for our own households. It’s the ultimate inside joke, story, cuisine, or act. It’s part of how we become the chain of ancestors– by not only maintaining traditions, but building on them.
How do you celebrate Hanukkah? Share your favorite traditions in the comments below!
Pronounced: KHAH-nuh-kah, also ha-new-KAH, an eight-day festival commemorating the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and subsequent rededication of the temple. Falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually corresponds with December.
Pronounced: muh-NOHR-uh, Origin: Hebrew, a lamp or candelabra, often used to refer to the Hanukkah menorah, or Hanukkiah.