My First Hanukkah: Our Multi-Cultural Christmas

When my five year old daughter asked me if we could celebrate Hanukkah last year, I was surprised. We aren’t Jewish … but she had learned about the holiday at school and was fascinated by the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. Although I was skeptical that her intentions were really about a prospective eight days of presents or games resulting in chocolate coins, this year we find ourselves lighting both an Advent wreath and a Menorah.

Saying Yes to Hanukkah

A year is a long time for a five (now six) year old. I was both surprised and impressed that she was aware that Hanukkah was coming up. When she brought it up again this year, I said yes. Thankfully I had the help and support of Jewish friends and colleagues to guide me through this sacred and beautiful holiday. One dear friend who has become my de facto Hanukkah consultant even Zoomed us into her first night lighting celebration so we could hear the prayers sung in Hebrew.

So how are we, a formally Catholic, now Episcopalian family celebrating Hanukkah…and why?

Candlelit dinners

In the evenings, after sundown, when we gather for our family dinner, we say prayers to light the Menorah, adding one new candle each evening. (I found a very helpful guide here). And we say a second prayer when we light the Advent wreath. We let the candles burn for at least an hour. Come December 1st, we will also add the advent calendar into the mix after dinner.

Pro-tip: While I was able to purchase a Menorah locally, I was unaware that Menorah tapers are much skinnier than standard taper candles. Thankfully my dear friend shared a hack – using a knife to shave off the bottom of the candles so they fit. See those mangled candles? Those are now hand-carved artisanal works of art. But seriously, the Menorah tapers from Amazon will be delivered on Thursday.

Nightly readings

Last year when my daughter first expressed interest, I picked up Peppa Pig Happy Hanukkah. Our first night, we read this. On the second night, we read the biblical passage about Hanukkah. Fun fact – this passage is in 2 Maccabees, which is included in Catholic bibles, but not other bibles as it is part of the Apocrypha. So, I used my Roman Catholic bible to read to my Episcopalian child about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Full circle.

Our children have also been working on emerging readers at school about Hanukkah, so those will roll into our reading for this week as well. I have also found a number of free online Hanukkah resources to further add to our nightly reading, including the following:

A Hanukkah Book

Hanukkah Activity Sheets on Printable Learning

PJ LIbrary’s Hanukkah at Home

A local celebration

Temple Shalom is offering a Friday night celebration open to the public to celebrate Hanukkah, including a special candle lighting celebration, festive snacks, and fun songs.

Dreidel and gelt

One of my daughters’ Hanukkah presents is their very own dreidel. Once that arrives, they can spin to win gelt (chocolate coins!).

Oily foods

You had me at gluten free donut. One interesting aspect that I did not previously know about celebrating Hanukkah is the eating of oily foods, such as jelly donuts and latkes. Fun fact, Natural Grocers has some great gluten-free donuts you can make in the air fryer. And here is a gluten free latke recipe we will be trying out. In Lafayette, we have a near endless array of options for foods fried in oil, so celebrating oil can be an accessible add-on to your Hanukkah celebration.

And yes, there are presents

Originally, I kicked about eight additional days of presents. But my official Hanukkah consultant tells me that presents are traditional, and in her family, they are usually small, useful things like socks and underwear. And so, the flurry of Black Friday shopping that I did to prepare my children for the coming cold of winter has now transitioned to provide eight evenings of small, practical presents that fill my children with light and joy.

Getting to the why

I have personally always been fascinated by the Jewish faith and its plethora of beautiful traditions and celebrations. Seeing my daughter express an interest in learning about other faiths is soul-filling. This has also created an opportunity to increase our family’s prayer practices at the beginning of Advent, to learn about the different religious texts, and to discuss the common themes that unite all of us, no matter what religion you are practicing. The winter nights grow long and cold, and there is something deeply human about celebrating the light.

Happy Hanukkah! Hanukkah sameach!

Jess Allain is a mom of two, an attorney, a triathlete, and a yoga teacher. She is a member of the Junior League of Lafayette and serves on the board of The Family Tree. When she isn't swimming, biking, running, reading, practicing yoga, litigating, or cooking something up in the kitchen, you will find her playing with her two beautiful girls. Adventure is out there!

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