BOTH OF MY PARENTS are Jewish, and immigrated to the United States as children escaping the Holocaust. I have celebrated Hanukkah, and other Jewish holidays, my whole life. My sister and I were the only Jewish children in our school growing up and it was really hard to be the only kids who were different, mostly because no one understood what our culture was about or took the time to ask. Even when we made the effort to educate and explain, we were always a minority.
When I grew up, I married a man who isn’t Jewish. Neither of us is religious but we have always honored both of our family traditions by incorporating Hanukkah, Christmas, as well as Solstice, into our winter celebrations. We teach our children that different cultures and religious traditions find different ways of bringing light into the darkest time of the year. For us, Christmas lights, Hanukkah candles, and Solstice bonfires are all different expressions of our shared need to be together and celebrate light and hope in the midst of the cold and the darkness.
Just like when I was a child, my family lights the candles in the menorah at sundown, one more each night for eight days. We say the prayer in Hebrew and teach it to our children so they can pass it on to their children someday. We place the menorah in our window so everyone can see the light growing night by night. Some nights we give small gifts, other nights we do a craft or cook potato latkes and other traditional Hanukkah foods.
Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas. It is a celebration of religious freedom. It is a living ritual that reminds us that even though Jewish people have experienced prejudice, persecution, and genocide over thousands of years and still today, we live on.
The origin of Hanukkah dates back over 2,200 years to a time when Jewish people were being forced to assimilate and renounce their beliefs. But they didn’t give up; they fought for their freedom and shone their light into the darkness. And so our tradition survives.
For me, celebrating Hanukkah is a time to remember where my people come from and to teach about the importance of fighting for justice, equality, and freedom for all people all over the world.
The BSE Flow thanks Marissa Tenenbaum Potter for her thoughtful views. Please let us know what your family holds dear about the holidays at firstname.lastname@example.org.