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What Is Chanukah All About?

Chagall ChanukahWhat is Chanukah all about? Chanukah, my children, Chanukah is the festival of socks. Each year the great Bubbe comes to the foot of each child’s bed and takes a sniff.

“Och, gotenyu. What a smell. I can tell you need new socks, you little stinker.”

And so, all over the world, at Chanukah, children get socks to replace the old worn out and stinky ones from last Chanukah. Now you know! Now we understand our non-Jewish neighbors, who always like to borrow our traditions and adjust them just a bit, like to hang their stockings by the fireplace. Their Great Bubbe goes in drag and has a yen for fireplaces. Do we have fireplaces? No. Who would chop the wood? Who would make the fire? But it’s good for the Goyim. So socks connect us all with a sense of the warmth of the season.

Answer number two? Chocolate, my children, we celebrate Chanukah to appreciate how good the world is when there are eight days in a row of chocolate at our table. We have chocolates to share, to give and most importantly to eat. We even have chocolate to drink-noch. We make chocolate into money and gamble for it with our dreidels. If we are very lucky we get many Gimmels. Gimmels are for great—a great miracle happened here. Of course I’m right—I just won all the chocolate. Ante up so I can spin again before my dreidel cools off.

And why is chocolate so important? It’s the most delicious thing of all. It is rich and warm. It can be wrapped in beautiful paper and please the eye, even the eye of a grumpy Shin spinner. It gives you energy. It’s energy and hope for sweetness and beauty that make you spin again and again and eventually you might get at least a Hay and split the pot. Chocolate makes you sweet on the inside, which makes you sweet on the outside which makes the world sweet.

Answer number 3: Nuts Kinder, nuts. This is what we want on Chanukah. The earth has given us nuts of the season with their pretty little wooden homes. Round mahogany homes suit filberts, thin crowded shells are homes for pecans. Stout comfortable walnut shells let the walnuts play Chanukah games before they serve as Charoseth next Pesach. Dark crinkly homes take care of Brazil nuts, full of oil, like our beloved lamp.

That would be number four–the lamp–the symbol of Chanukah, but what? Oh but you must think I am silly to forget the star of the whole show, quietly waiting in the dark for me to notice—our humble and most-dear Chanukah friend—the potato. The potato gives it’s all for Chanukah, allowing it’s pale flesh to be shredded, and stirred with eggs and onion and ladled into hot grease, flipped on it’s back, splashed with sour cream or applesauce (ok, you can have both) chewed and swallowed and maybe even some day soon, digested. This gentle giant promises all year long, reminding us how much we love Chanukah for the excuse to make latkes, for the better excuse to eat latkes, and for all the oil we can consume with each latke. And this, this little potato, really this is the secret of Chanukah. How the perfectly ordinary, so common among us, shines with greatness in the lights of hope, happiness, family, food and song.

What? You say Chanukah is not the potato, not the nuts, not the chocolate, not the warm snuggly socks? You’ve got to be kidding. Not even the beautiful menorah all bright with her warm candles? Songs—are you sad because I forgot the wonderful Chanukah songs where everyone knows the first two lines and hums the rest slightly out of tune? Is that what you think?

Oh, no. You think it’s us? Me, and the children, and our friends, and the guy I work with, and my neighbor, all gathered around the menorah while I look for the matches, turn down the soup that might boil over, flip the latkes one last time and finally make the brocha. You think that’s what Chanukah’s all about? Well, maybe you’re right.