Today marks the conclusion of the eight day festival of lights, Hannukah. As much as Hallmark, toy companies, and my own employer would like it to be, Hannukah is not a major Jewish holiday – we don’t spend the whole time in synagogue, we don’t even take off from work for it – but it is the second most observed Jewish holiday in the world, (More Jews have a Passover seder than light Hannukah candles) and it’s definitely a special time of the year.
I haven’t celebrated Hannukah with my parents since I was in high school. I’d rather save my vacation days to go home over Rosh HaShana and Passover. Besides, I don’t like night driving and it gets dark so early this time of the year! My parents used to send me a card, frequently with a small check in it to represent “gelt,” coins that children were given before ad men decided that Jewish kids should get presents in December too. (Not that I’m complaining… I like gifts.) My mom told me there would be no card this year – it’s just too sad for her to celebrate without my brother or I around. Classic Jewish mother guilt, of course, but she quickly conceded to my rebuttal– saying she’d rather I come home for Rosh HaShana and Passover if I can’t be home for all of the holidays.
In college, Hannukah usually meant finals studying. And lighting the hannukiah, frying latkes, and spinning the dreidel for half an hour with close friends each night was the perfect study break – enough socialization for everyone to remain stable, but not requiring a major time commitment if you have an exam in the morning. Plus Hannukah bar nights and other events made grade post-exam celebrations.
Last year, Kirios and spent six of the eight nights of Hannukah in Las Vegas (where there was no lack of lights), so I could run the Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon with Team Challenge for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and we could fit in some sightseeing too. During this trip, over Hannukah, my Zaydie (Yiddish for grandfather) passed away. Kirios and I weren’t able to return to the east coast early to attend his funeral. Each night, we lit the Hannukah candles in our room and took time to rest while the candles burned, before going out for dinner. The nightly ritual connected me to my family and community when I yearned to be with them.
This year Hannukah was much less eventful (and probably a good thing after the previous year). There were of course homemade latkes and Hannukiah lightings. Kirios joined me in person or via Skype as I recited the blessings over the candles each evening, and he even treated me to eight gifts for the eight nights. I passed on most of the big young professional Hannukah events in the city though, and things were fairly normal overall. But I suppose setting aside thirty minutes each night to watch the candles burn was a pretty strong reminder that there’s always time to stop and appreciate something special, and we encounter special things every day.