The holiday season is upon us, moms. Santas and Christmas trees and carols and magic abound. It’s a wonderful time of year, indeed. The lights, the merry-making — there is truly nothing like it.
In standard years, the holiday known as Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or Channukkah, or Hanukah, or Chanuka, or insert spelling preference here), begins well before Christmas. This year, Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve. Many have been referring to this as “Chrismukkah” which reminds me of just two years ago when we celebrated “Thanksgivikkuh” which was complete with our very own “Menurkey.” And I’m totally not joking.
Jewish holidays run on the lunar calendar which is why our holidays float around, in case you were curious. Keep in mind that contrary to popular belief, Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas.” In fact, it’s a fairly minor holiday. However, Hanukkah represents a miracle that occurred. Long, long, ago, the Grecian army hoped to ruin the traditional Jewish practice of lighting the menorah and most of our practices in general. They eventually destroyed the holy Temple in Jerusalem, and put out the lights that represented our faith. Then came the Maccabees! After the Temple was destroyed, the Maccabees helped the Jews discover a jar of oil that is said to have kept the eternal flame burning for eight whole nights even though it only had enough oil for one day. And that’s the miracle of light, folks!
Lighting the menorah helps us to remember, each night, the miracle of renewing light in a time of year that is usually very dark. I mean, it’s dark by at least 4:30 PM and that makes this time of year a struggle alone, am I right? We eat foods fried in oil, like those amazing things you may have heard of known as latkes. We spend time together and some families, not all, give a present each night. We do participate in present giving, but it’s usually things we need — socks, underpants, shoes, towels, soap, art supplies, and one fun present, because I am a sucker for little faces that light up.
My husband flies a big airplane for a very well known cargo company you all utilize for your holiday gift-giving. I lovingly refer to him and all of his colleagues as the “Santas of the Skies.” His peak season begins around Thanksgiving and settles down around mid-January. As you can imagine, his presence during Hanukkah is slim, but we do typically get a day or two together.
In order for me to get my two small children and self through EIGHT days of celebration, it requires a survival guide. Neither of our families live anywhere nearby and we don’t travel this time of year due to the hubby’s crazy schedule, so I have to get resourceful. I am positive that even if you have your significant other and family with you during the entire eight days, you will find this list helpful.
And here we go, eight tips for eight crazy nights!
1. Plan the Big Meal
You only need to worry about one big meal. Plan it early, and plan it only for the date that you have more than one big person consuming it and someone available to help you. If you can, make sure this is the first or second night of Hanukkah. Get a brisket a few days in advance and put that thing in a slow cooker on the day you are serving it with chili sauce and an onion soup packet. This recipe is my absolute go to for Hanukkah, Passover, or if you aren’t Jewish, it’s so delicious any time, especially in the winter months. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Make plenty of latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) or just buy them if it’s easiest. We also make a big pot of matzoh ball soup because any excuse for our family to have matzoh ball soup is a done deal. The reasoning behind doing this early, is that this feast will last you the WHOLE eight days. Read: LEFTOVERS.
Make sure you have an activity for each night. While lighting the candles, saying the prayers, telling the story, and singing songs are wonderful things, you have to have more, especially as the children start to realize the same thing is happening every night. Stock up on your chocolate gelt and dreidels aplenty (we lose so many and I think the dogs eat them or the cat hides them). Also, there are plenty of downloadable coloring pages on the vast endlessness that is the Internet. And SO many treats little hands can help create! Check out this link for Hanukkah treat ideas.
Shop early, and sneakily. I start ordering our practical gifts, mostly from Amazon, weeks in advance in small waves. As they come in, I wrap them up and put them in the attic. As each night comes, they have no idea there is a stack of presents stashed away, so they have no idea that there will be more. It adds to the surprise value and calms the questions if the presents are out in plain sight. Also, we visit the Judaica Shop at Temple Israel for all of our dreidels, menorahs, and super special gifts. They have the best selection!
You have to get to know the Maccabeats. They are AMAZING. This is our personal favorite Hanukkah tune and this video is a must watch right here! My kids know all of the words and we dance and sing to this for all eight nights.
Our families and many of our dear friends are so far away and since daddy is working much of the eight days, we plan some video chatting complete with mutual candle-lighting and prayers. I JUST stepped into the “cool kids” iPhone club only two weeks ago, and admittedly, FaceTime is MUCH easier on my new phone now than with the iPad we were using. Also, I send a miniature menorah with birthday candles along with our busy jet-setter daddy so he can also participate with us. This is perfect for travel if you have to be away during Hanukkah.
Hanukkah movies are certainly few and far between and I probably don’t know about many of them. I recently discovered a great holiday show based on the children’s literary classic, “The Snowy Day” as an Amazon Prime Original. It’s a great take on diversity and all of the holidays, including Hanukkah, and my kids love it. After the kids go to bed, I recommend watching “The Hebrew Hammer” with a friend or two! It’s crass, ridiculous, and it’s silly, but it’s one of our favorite traditions at our home.
7. Give Back
Choose your favorite charity and cash in the tzedakah (charitable giving – but it’s more of an obligation, if you will) you have been saving through the months to give to those who need through the holidays and winter months. A great idea is to go shopping with your saved tzedakah and buy presents for children who don’t usually receive anything for the holidays. Toys for Tots is a great place to start. Teach your little ones early!
8. Chill Out. You Made It.
Day Eight is here! And you survived. Light all eight of those candles on all of your menorahs with joy and pride and bask in the most beautiful of all of the days. Those menorahs are shining their brightest tonight and you won’t see them again until next year. Hug your kids. Give out the big, special, spoiling present you have been saving, and eat the rest of the latkes. You have earned them.