Don’t Tell Me Hanukkah is a Minor Holiday

By Anita Diamant

I like Hanukkah.

I like the candles, especially the ones that look like crayons with the twisting sides that look like they’re made of sugar instead of wax. I also like the imported one from Israel, all fancy and for some reason made to look like trippy 1970s Formica.

Anita's MenorahI like menorahs; the silly ones and the artsy ones, made of wood, copper, bronze, ceramic. I like that menorahs can be made out of cupcakes or a brick. I once heard that during the Holocaust someone stuck some candles into a potato and called that a menorah, and then surely ate the potato.

I like the electric menorah because it is still lit in the morning when I go downstairs, having proclaimed while I slept. I like turning the next bulb to signify another night and I like the bulb, which is painted to look like a real candle if real candles burned blue.

I like the ugly Chabad hanukkiah they light on Boston Common. I like the cheap tin menorah the little Chabad boy gave my daughter, Emilia, in Chicago last weekend, that I lit when I was in Rockport last night—using the accompanying super-cheap candles, which burned out in 10 minutes.

I like latkes, mine in particular, which are the world’s best. I am not being conceited; you can ask anyone. The secret to my latkes is hot oil. The secret is to make them much smaller than you do now, so they can really be crisp and cook all the way through.

I like latkes because they are sour cream delivery systems, though I’m perfectly fine if you want applesauce. But the real secret is that latkes have to be served directly out of the frying pan, with a quick stop on paper towels for drainage, and this requires that someone stand at the stove the whole time, which is really not a sacrifice and stop telling me to sit down because making an offering of good latkes is a mitzvah. A nice mitzvah; a happy, satisfying mitzvah.

I wish I could say I like the smell of fried potatoes in my towels all week but I can say that it’s worth it.

I like Hanukkah because it’s good to have a jolly Jewish anchor in the vast sea that is Christmas. I like Hanukkah because it demands so much less of me than Christmas does of non-Jews and reminds me that sometimes it’s easier to be part of a counterculture.

I like Hanukkah because it is a minor holiday, and there isn’t a lot of liturgy involved. I like Hanukkah because the new music being composed for Hanukkah is funny, and sweet, and way better than anything associated with the other holidays. Also it’s low-tech, small and you do it at home. I like Hanukkah because kids love it.

I like the size of the Hanukkah miracle; no parting of red seas, just a story about finding extra oil when you didn’t think you had any and you really needed it and all the stores were closed. That’s the kind of miracle with which I am familiar, along with the miracle of good food and feeding people I love.

I like dreidels, and the fact that they multiply like rabbits; wooden, plastic, art glass, Femo clay, all good. Best of all, I like wind-up dreidels with feet. In fact, I like all Hanukkah kitsch (aka Hanukkah crap). I mourn the demise of our Hanukkah Harry, an ugly plush toy that sang the “Dreidel Song”; likewise the singing menorah, which blared “Rock of Ages” until your ears bled. Dreidel salad servers, menorah magnets, blue tinsel. I have no explanations and I make no excuses.

I like the fact that there is a rabbinic argument about the meaning of Hanukkah; oil versus religious resistance. And to make it even more problematic (i.e. more Jewish) the Maccabees turned out to be a nightmare—not uncommon with warrior-kings and/or warrior-priest-kings. These guys were constitutionally unable to stop fighting, forced conversion to Judaism upon conquered populations, and over the course of a few generations their family relations got into Borgia territory.

Can I get an “oy vey”?

I even like Hanukkah Facebook postings, though enough with pictures of latkes. Latkes are delicious, but pretty? Meh.

I hope you find much to like about Hanukkah, too.

Light, light, light, light, light, light, light.

Anita Diamant is the author of 12 books, including “The Red Tent,” “Day After Night,” “The New Jewish Wedding” and “Choosing a Jewish Life.” She is also founding president of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh in Newton.

Originally published on Anita’s blog Thinking Out Loud.