I was introduced to Hanukkah at a young age, not because my parents celebrated, but my two best friends did. One of my friends was “Jewish on both sides,” and the other celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays. They would tell me about their experiences, and I thought I understood. But apparently I didn’t.
I remember feeling jealous of them, because they got presents for 8 nights every year, whereas I only got them on one. Sure, supposedly their presents were supposed to be less grand, but they always seemed to be better than mine. I also remember eating potato latkes at school, with applesauce. I remembered seeing the Star of David, which was strange to me because of having six points, instead of five. I did appreciate its symmetry, though. I also remember hearing about the menorah. We attempted the dreidel game a few times, but it didn’t interest me. I tried to understand how oil lasted for eight days, but my logical, rational mind would not let me.
I had a hard time understanding why Jewish people wouldn’t celebrate Christmas. How could they possibly deny the existence of Jesus? And this was long before I heard about “Jews for Jesus,” which I still do not understand. I knew that my Jewish friends followed the Old Testament, so why couldn’t they appreciate the New Testament? Even though I didn’t understand, I did appreciate my friends and their celebrations.
It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I finally was able to understand the true meaning of Hanukkah. I had to learn abut traditions and the history, so that I could give my students an accurate series of lessons and activities. I have wanted to be respectful of the beliefs held by children in my class and give equal time to different cultures. It’s the Montessorian in me.
We now make little Stars of David and play the dreidel game, while singing the song. We read numerous books and sing traditional songs for our holiday performance. I made a felt menorah for children to use. On occasion, we are able to acquire a real menorah, in which children can place candles. That makes for a great practical life lesson! We have even been able to have parents come in to share their Hanukkah memories and traditions with the class. My goal is to help my kids have less misunderstood memories of Hanukkah than I did!