Keren David, author of When I was Joe, due to be published on 7th January 2010, has kindly wrote a guest post to go along with my Authors' Christmas posts. Being Jewish, Keren doesn't celebrate Christmas, but there is another holiday she celebrates this time of year...
Forget mince pies and Christmas pudding, mistletoe, trees and Santa. For our family, December is all about doughnuts, candles and spinning tops.
We’re Jewish and so while our non-Jewish friends are frantically shopping, decorating and cooking we’re celebrating the much more leisurely and low key festival of Chanucah.
Chanucah commemorates the victory of the Jewish rebels led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers over the Syrian Empire led by King Antiochus. At the rededication there was only enough consecrated olive oil to keep alight the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared. This makes a great story for Jewish children to act out every year. My son, born just before Chanucah, was actually named after Judah Maccabee - a big strong superhero name.
Compared with other Jewish festivals Chanucah is easy-peasy - no lengthy synagogue services, no big meals. Instead there’s a candle-lighting ceremony every night, with one more candle added to the nine-branched candelabra. One candle is there as the ‘servant’ to the others which represent the eight days of the miracle. Part of the fun is choosing which colour candle you’re going to light each night. We say some blessings, sings some songs, exchange presents every day for eight days. Because it lasts so long it’s easy to share with family and friends.
Oil being the focus of the miracle, it is traditional to celebrate Chanucah by eating fried foods - it’s not a great time for weight-watchers. Doughnuts of all shapes and flavours are sold in Jewish bakeries and at some point during the week I’ll be making potato latkes – fried pancakes of grated potato, egg and flour.
We give presents at Chanucah, but it’s more traditional to give money. And the game played at Chanucah time is a gambling game - although you can play it with sweets instead of coins. You have a special spinning top, called a dreidel which has four Hebrew letters on its sides. According to which letter you get, you take half, none or all of the pot - or you have to add to it.
When I was a kid I envied my friends their Christmas trees and decorations, I longed for Santa to visit and I felt extremely left out. But the Chanucah candles were always magical. And now I'm grown up I'm just so grateful to avoid the hard work of Christmas!
Keren also told me when I asked about presents, that "it's generally only kids that get presents every night - and we keep it small! By the end of the week they're making do with the kind of stuff other kids get in their stockings."
Click the candles image to see a larger view.
How interesting is Chanucah? Eight days of celebration, and it all sounds so fun! If you're interested in finding out more about When I Was Joe, and Keren herself, please check out her blog, Almost True.