Appreciating Hanukkah During the Pandemic

December 23, 2020


Courtesy of Max Gaffin ('22)

Max Gaffin and his family made the traditional dish, latkes, for Hanukkah.

As the winter season settles in, I prepare myself for what I call the “eight crazy nights” of my yearly family bonding—Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights centers around a group of Jews in Syria who fought back against their religious persecution, thus, each year my family and I remember the miracle by lighting our Hanukiah, commemorating the short supply of oil which lasted eight days and eight nights for our Jewish ancestors over 2,000 years ago.

Although we celebrate the holiday for 8 days, Night One has a special meaning to my family: it’s the night that we go all out for our celebration. After the sun sets and before lighting our Hanukkah menorah on the first night, we say a prayer to bless God for enabling us to reach this season. Once the shamash is lit and the furthest candle to the right is ablaze, it is most likely that the fire alarm will go off- not because the Hanukiah’s candles are gradually melting as the fun night comes to an end- but because of the fryer on the stove boiling on full heat. To commemorate the miracle of the tiny amount of oil transcending expectations to light the holy menorah, we eat a lot of food that’s been fried in oil. My favorite, of course, latkes (sort of like a Jewish hashbrown) and sufganiyot (delicious jelly donuts).

As the nights go by, I appreciate being able to celebrate the Jewish holidays. However, this year my nightly Hanukkah celebrations were limited to my close family and connecting with others on Zoom to light the menorah, exchange presents, and sing the Hanukkah prayers together. In years past, I have celebrated the holiday with parties at my cousins’ house, polyanas gifting games, praying in front of the kotel in Israel, and even with glorious and oily feasts that stuff my stomach full for hours and bloat my skin with oily red pimples.

With debates sparking about the best way to enjoy latkes- applesauce, sour cream, jelly or jam, ketchup, or plain, the house adorned in fresh colors of Hanukkah blue, the dreidels spinning all over the living room in a foolhardy manner, or even the wrapping paper and gelt (chocolate coins) tinfoil scraps that overflow the Kitchen recycling bin, my family comes together to bond over Maccabees’ victory and celebrate our family’s Jewish identity– a family staple.

Looking in the icey living room window, neighbors may only see the traditional rusted silver Hanukkiah with blue and white candles sitting on a wooden stool to show off our faint Judaic pride. However, deeper inside my home runs the laughter characterized by the competitive Hanukkah games, the Bluetooth speaker blasting Holiday songs, and the smell of the grated potatoes and onions that my sister has fried till golden. Even though my celebration of the Festival of Lights may not have been so grand this year, I still remembered the true meaning of Hanukkah- dedication to my inner faith and my family.

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