8 fun ‘facts’ for Hannu- … Chana- … whatever


Amy Fenster Brown, Special For The Jewish Light

Thanksgiving came to a close last week and just as we finished our leftovers, Chanukah showed up. So did Hanukkah, Hannuka and the other dozen or so ways the holiday gets spelled.

I especially like the rare and elusive spelling Xanukah, because it reminds me of the glorious 1980 film “Xanadu” featuring Olivia Newton-John, a dreamy soundtrack and lots of roller skating.

Just as there are many ways to spell the arguably minor Jewish holiday that has turned major due to commercialism, there are many fun facts (that aren’t actually facts, just things I made up) beyond Adam Sandler’s famous song. Here are eight, one for each night:

  1. Miracles: You’ve likely seen this meme before but,if not, allow me to share a modern way to describe the Festival of Lights from the eyes of a teenager. Think of the miracle of Hanukah in terms of your cell phone if it had only 10% battery left but somehow lasted for eight days. Boom. Consider yourself educated.
  2. Food: We Jews love to bring food into every holiday, family celebration and life cycle event. It always involves eating, whether the occasion is happy or sad. We’re Jews, we suffered, let’s eat. Chanuka is a deliciously convenient excuse to eat fried foods by saying,“Well, the oil lasted eight nights, so let’s use oil as our theme in a symbolic way to sizzle up some potatoes and dough balls, top them with sour cream and applesauce, fill them with grape jelly and call it a party.” You’ve worked in fruit with the apples and grapes, and the sour cream has calcium, which is good for your bones. Gelt is a highlight simply because it is chocolate. Mama’s tummy hurts.
  3. Retail: What is with the llamas for Hanuka?  Happy Llamakuh? Did I miss a lesson in Sunday school about llamas being a part of the Great Miracle? This year, I have seen Hannukah-themed gnomes at the stores, again worrying I missed another religious school lesson; a decorative pillow that reads,“Why is this night different from all other nights?” (wrong holiday); and random blue plates and vases stuffed into the display simply because they are blue. Weak. I’ve also seen scented candles with Jewish stars and menorahs on them but no discernable Chanukka scent, such as hot oil stench or the disappointment of a spoiled teenage girl who wanted a tight cropped tank top but received a bulky sweatshirt with teddy bears holding hearts that says:“Bubbe loves me beary much.”
  4. Decorations: I fall right into the trap of wanting to make Hannukkah bigger than it really is. (There’s a joke in there that isn’t fit to print in this publication, but you can probably figure it out, which is my gift to you.) I decorate the house with anything blue and silver I can find, such as little round orbs traditionally known as “Christmas ornaments.” This year I filled a little tray with said orbs, dreidels and pieces of gelt. Festive. Much like our retailers in item No. 3 above, I’ll just pepper the house in blue and silver and sparkles and glitter … a move I will later lament when I attempt to clean it all up and realize the magnitude of the concept that glitter is the herpes of the craft world because you can never actually get rid of it.
  5. Seasonal wear: Ugly Christmas sweaters aren’t just for Christmas anymore, gang.  Channukkah sweaters that say things like “Get lit!” are everywhere.  I saw one with a menorah and a little battery inside that actually lights up. If you have a relative who likes to toss back a few cocktails to get lit in their own festive way, this is the perfect gift for them. You can also find lots of themed pajamas, socks and those headbands that look like antennae with Jewish stars that bounce around. It’s also a good gift for that relative who likes to get shickered.
  6. Family: You have eight nights to get together with the whole mishpuchah.Have plans with this side one night and that side another or invite them all at once for a party that’ll make you dizzier than a spinning dreidel. Enjoy fun things like when Aunt Rosie shoves rolls in her purse when she thinks no one is looking. Family friends love to celebrate, too.  Think about including non-Jewish friends who want to learn your traditions. The best times are happening right now, so take advantage and enjoy those you love and who love you, even if on the first night your sister said,“Oh you’re letting your hair go gray. That’ll be different!” (Reminder, don’t be a week late in your hair color maintenance when you have a full social calendar.) A couple of quiet nights at home with a little low-key menorah lighting will round out the holiday.
  7. Lighting the candles: I think we can all relate to the mild panic that sets in as the candles burn themselves out, you smell it and think either,“Whoa, is something on fire?” or,“It smells like a birthday party, is there cake?”
  8. Returning gifts: Something doesn’t fit someone, or it isn’t the right color, or you’re allergic to it. It’s going back. The gift receipt is the actual gift that keeps on giving because you can pick out something you really want. Having Chanuqa early this year is particularly handy because most holiday returns won’t happen until very late December or early January. Still, I wish you the best of luck, because you’ll likely find yourself in customer service in line behind that teenager with the teddy bear sweatshirt.

Monthly columnist Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies.