Chanukah In My Home

In my home we celebrate Chanukah. Like all religious holidays that are thousands of years old, it begins with a germ of historical truth and then, over the centuries, goes through transformations in meaning and traditions. Over the millennia Jews have been persecuted and assimilated, were victims of genocide, learned new languages, and gained education in secular schools. Judaism has evolved and gone through a reformation. The celebration of this holiday has changed as frequently as Jews have moved from one country to another, and from one time to another.

At its core, Chanukah is a story of a beautiful building, the temple in Jerusalem. It was the heart of the Jewish community, a place of worship, education, love and pride. It was destroyed by a king and his armies when the Jews failed to bend to his will, honor his gods and pay his taxes. After much strife and bloodshed, it was reclaimed by the Jews, rebuilt and used once again. Embedded in this story is a tale of a miracle. Jewish temples have an “eternal lamp” that burns sanctified oil. When the Jews reentered their vandalized temple, they had enough of the oil for only one night, but it would take eight days to get more. They lit the lamp anyway, and it burned brightly until more of the sacred oil was brought to the temple. That’s why, it’s said, we light the menorah for eight days.

Chanukah is a rather unimportant holiday, certainly not a holy day, and is only in the limelight because of it’s proximity to Christmas. But, underneath the story told to our children, there is a complex fable. It is one that dwells on the balance between assimilation and religious dogmatism, between the fear of the “other” and the tolerance of diverse society, between the heavy hand of a government, and what a people will tolerate, and between when to act through armies, when to be subversive, and when to give in. It’s about symbols, faith and identity. I think about all of those things at this time of year. I am so grateful to live in this country where I can celebrate how I want, in public, with my family. I am grateful to live at a time when my religious decisions can be personal and not dictated by fundamentalist dogma, or by an oppressive government. I’m grateful to live where where I can walk among others who are celebrating their own holidays.

On Friday I’ll have seventeen people here for a Chanukah dinner. My grandparents came from Russia, and so in a nod to them I’ll have brisket. I’ve bought a large one from my favorite meat purveyor at my local farmer’s market. I might toss in some spices my grandmother would never have used (cumin! harissa!) but it will be a brisket nonetheless. I’ll make potato latkes—frying in oil is a Chanukah tradition. These will be served with homemade applesauce and sour cream. I won’t mess with the basic recipe of shredded potatoes and onions, held together with eggs and bread crumbs, but I will use and be thankful for my food processor. My grandmother used a hand grater. Life changes in many ways! I’m also making a winter squash and chickpea soup (actually traditional fare from Mediterranean Jews) and salad. I’ll make challah, a traditional (well, in the last few hundred years or so) bread. A friend is bringing dessert, but if I find a moment, I’ll make something sweet, too. So, after a couple of thousand years, in my small way and in this small place, Chanukah will continue to be celebrated, with food and family, candles, love and gratitude.

Whatever you celebrate in the next week, I wish you joy and warmth and happiness at your table.


  1. And the same to you. Thanks for your long distance friendship, a peek into your home, family and friends and the support and guidance you provide to all of your internet family. Enjoy your holidays.

  2. Happy Chanukah! (or Hanukkah, as my lot used to spell it – I wonder what the difference is?)
    I have just hauled in some greenery for the fireplace, put my twinkly lights around the mirror, and am planning on a nice fattening supper and was musing on how each faith seems to have a festival in the darkest days that involves these three elements; a reminder that new growth will begin not long after the days start to lengthen, that you can have light in the darkest days and need warming food to get you through the cold. (See how I conveniently forget that Christmas, Chanukah and Diwali are celebrated in the southern hemisphere as well… it’s an atheist’s prerogative to fudge the facts!)
    So happy ‘lengthening days’ too – Dorcas has started laying her pretty blue eggs again which was a lovely surprise this week.
    No fighting over the chocolate money, now…

  3. Thank you for the history and your way of celebrating. I have become very interested in the Hebrew culture. I realize I know almost nothing but am enjoying learning.

  4. Happy Chanukah!

    I live in a mixed household of people(2 christians, 1 heathen and a lapsed pagan) so we have all different kinds of celebrations.I tend to lump all celebrations into one big winter fest I call Yule. We have a christmas tree with a santa, a dreidel, a mini bible,several witches. Anything that glitters to spread the light around will also end up on there. We exchange gifts on the 25th but could just as easily do it on the 22nd for the solstice.

    I’m glad that we do live in a world where this is possible. I know that not everyone has it as good as us. I wish that everyone had this freedom. I also hope that we all realize what a privilege this is and do our part in making sure that this never changes :)

    Happy Holidays!!!

  5. Thank you, Terry, for the story of your celebration, and for the reminder that we have much to be thankful for, living in this time and age, and in this country, and with the joyful hum of food processor in your house, and coffee grinder in mine. Friendships, and the experiences that enrich our lives – that is what I am most thankful for.

  6. Happy Chanukah Terry.
    I like you am glad to live in a time in which I can worship or not the way I choose.
    Enjoy your day with family and friends and I wish you the best in 2012!

  7. That’s why I say: Happy Holidays!

    I forgot where I’d read this, but the origin of the northern European celebration of Christmas was a way of making sure your neighbors had enough food to get through the winter. If they gave you a gift, they were okay. If they didn’t give a gift, they needed help, and so you would leave food on their doorstep.

    • I have never heard this explanation. How interesting. Thanks for passing this along.

  8. I was thrilled with the school culture. Thanks for sharing. Love and peace for you and your entire family.

  9. Thank you, Terry, for sharing your traditions with us and the history of the holiday. With many Jewish friends, I am constantly learning about and appreciating your faith. Indeed, we are very fortunate to live in a place where we are free to worship as we choose. Here’s wishing you a wonderful, Happy Chanukah with friends and family (and food) and a happy, successful new year. :)

  10. And a Happy Chanukah to you !!! I use to celebrate it with my paternal granparents. Christmas and Chanukah were both very happy holidays in my memories. It was the one time of the year that my Grandfather would break kosher and eat ham. Kugel was my favorite dish to eat. Did your grandparents use to argue in Yiddish too so that you couldn’t understand what they were arguing about ? Acourse I would easily figure it out, I have mostly forgotten how to speak yiddish except for a few choice curse words :)

    • No one in my family spoke Yiddish, not more than a few words. But many of my elderly relatives had that Eastern European accent, and certainly the foodways.

  11. Terry — may the many joys you have brought to us return to you and yours many times over. Happy Chanukah and a wonderful new year.

  12. Dear Terry-Chere Terry YOYEUX HANUKA very happy holidays-from FRANCE:)
    With friendships to you and your simpathic family and your adorable animaux:)YOYEUX NOEL et BONNE ANNEE!

  13. Wendy, David, Wendy, Lynn, Martina, Lauren, Ken, Suzanne, Jean, Angela, Vicki, Kit and Gizi – thanks for adding your joyful spirit to my blog! Much holiday happiness to all of you.

  14. Terry,
    Happy Chanukah to all of you. No matter the religion, it is all about family, thankfulness, and tradition. Learning about others’ traditions shows us how similar we all are. David Brooks said on Charley Rose’s PBS show last night that he has received letters from all over the world from nurses, etc., who though well-educated, could not get a job in their home country because they are from the wrong tribe. We in the US do not even understand such a statement.
    Thank you for all the interesting and fun recipes and blogs, photos and streaming cameras of your animals, etc. I will get my aunt Katie to read some of them on my son’s laptop.

  15. TERRY TERRY TERRY !!!! Early christmas gift for you and your older son. I know he is college know and will be starting his spring semester soon. Well, I am into free items, and on one of my free sites. Their is a free rental textbooks, you can get a text book rental for just eight bucks. I scored my 70 dollar Psy for eight dollars. All you have to do is pay for shipping. Unfortunately it is just for one book per student. But I figure any way can help. Here is the site, hurry they are only allowing 100,000 orders. Here is the site,
    I will also email this too you, to see if you will get this sooner.

  16. Happy Holiday and New Year to you Terry and all your family (animals included) and to all your readers. Thank you for sharing and bringing such brightness to us all.

  17. Happy Chanukah to you and yours! Thank you for a wonderful blog, the cams and all you share with others. We just told our grandson confined to a respirator since birth (11 years) about your cams.
    This gives him yet another window to the world. We are Christian and wish you a very merry Christmas!

    • My animals send your grandson virtual hugs. I’ve heard from others who are also confined indoors that my cams are their outside windows. Love sharing my animal companions with them!

  18. My, my Terry, what big family you have from all around the world, and how very glad I am to be a part of it! I wish for you and yours (two-footed, four-footed, finned, feathered, furred) joy and send virtual hugs all around. :)

  19. I do like reading your posts. Especially this one. Happy Holidays, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, to you and all your followers. Holidays are steeped with stories, traditions and family the way they should be. I always like the sound of the feasts you prepare for yourself and your guests. I just recently won the bid on your cookbook “1000 Lowfat recipes”… looking forward to receiving it.
    Celia Allen

  20. Terry, Happy Chanukah and Best Wishes to you and yours in the New Year. From all of us here at Dog Trot Farm, Julie.

  21. Happy Chanukah, Terry(and family). Such a lovely post!

    Thank you for your WONDERFUL blog, it makes my day!!!

  22. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanuka to you all and thank you Terry for your fascinating blog. It is good to share.