One of the ideals my mother most firmly believed in was exposing her children to as many cultural experiences as possible. I have many childhood memories of participating in different friends’ holiday celebrations that were not necessarily of my religion or background. One memory that stands out the most was the year we celebrated Hanukkah with a Jewish family my mother was friends with.
I was eight years old and had no idea what Hanukkah was about. All I knew was that children received presents for eight days in a row, a concept that I thought was pretty “cool” at the time. While the first and last days of Hanukkah are reserved for direct relatives, we were invited to the third, fourth, and fifth night with the Payne’s.
I am sure that the adults played up the commercial side of the holiday for the benefit of us kids, but I remember those three nights were fun and exciting to me. After arriving, my mom’s friend Jessica sat us down and explained the significance of Hanukkah to us. She told us what I refer to as the “Hanukkah Story”, and explained about a time when the practice of Judaism was forbidden and to observe the traditions was a crime that was punishable by death.
She told a story of the Maccabees who returned to their temple to find that it had been desecrated and needed to be purified. The Maccabees needed to burn oil in the menorah for eight days to purify their sacred space but did not have enough oil. Because of the power of their faith and the miracle given to them by God, the oil lasted for the entire eight days until fresh oil had been obtained.
This, she explained to us, was the miracle of Hanukkah and why the Jewish still celebrated with the ceremonial lighting of the menorah, to remember the miracle given to them in ancient times. She followed up the Hanukkah story by saying a special prayer, (of which I did not understand but still found the beauty of moving), and lighting one candle on the menorah.
The rest of the night was spent playing games, and eating food, and each of us got a present from the adults. She taught us how to play the “dreidel game”, and the prizes consisted of gelt, chocolate coins covered in shiny gold tin foil. She also made amazing food for us to eat, sufganiyot and latkes. Sufganiyot are fried jelly donuts that are covered in powdered sugar, and latkes are pancakes made with potatoes and onions. The food was amazing, and as we ate, she taught us words and letters in Hebrew.
The most hilarious part of the time we spent with the Paynes however, was dressing their dog Skye in a blue and white Hanukkah outfit that was complete with a menorah hat, which she hated and immediately danced around the living room trying to remove.
I still have pictures of those nights, and the memories will remain with me forever. Even though my mom passed on a few years ago, I am very grateful that she gave me such an open mind and let me experience so many different cultural events and holidays. I believe having this experience, (and others), has helped mold me into the person I am today, helped me to become a happy, well adjusted, open minded adult. I am thankful to my mother, for the Paynes for sharing this holiday with me, and would jump at the chance to celebrate Hanukkah with friends in the future.