What Jewish child can resist the miracle of Hanukkah? The dancing flames atop the menorah, the heavy perfume of potato latkes, the spellbinding spinning dreidels and the magical story of Judah and the Maccabees all add up to child’s dream of a holiday.


With sidebar on the story of Hanukkah

What Jewish child can resist the miracle of Hanukkah? The dancing flames atop the menorah, the heavy perfume of potato latkes, the spellbinding spinning dreidels and the magical story of Judah and the Maccabees all add up to child’s dream of a holiday.

As a young girl, I looked forward to Hanukkah for all these reasons, along with the promise of an Easy Bake oven, a giant stuffed teddy bear or just the sheer pleasure of unwrapping gifts for eight consecutive nights. I somewhat envied my non-Jewish friends for their Christmas trees, gingerbread houses and spot on Santa’s lap, but was easily distracted by a few chocolate coins and the electric menorah in our front window that reminded me of how many presents I had yet to behold.

I shamefully admit that I am one of the happy (and mildly aggressive) sheep flocking to the mall to purchase gifts in hopes of lighting up the eyes of those I love on Hanukkah. The annual ritual begins like clockwork. I wake up from the tryptophan- and carbohydrate-induced slumber of Thanksgiving, and like a greyhound at the racetrack when he hears the shotgun, I’m off to the mall.

This year, I had an interesting thought. What if I told my children that instead of getting eight gifts, we’re celebrating by giving each other intangible expressions? Day one’s gift is a compliment. A kiss is the present for day two. We’d work our way up to the eighth day when we’d share a big group hug. While other children boast about their iPods and Tiffany bracelets, Rachel and Emily could chime in about how warm and fuzzy they feel because we’re doling out love and kindness in our home.

I know it’s time to wake up and smell the latkes. This is the 21st century, and a miracle and a smooch is not what kids are looking for. If I tell the truth, I wasn’t in the market for sentimentality and spirituality when I was a kid. It just didn’t sparkle like a trinket.

As an adult, I am more aware of the miracle of a wonderful family, friends and good fortune. And while we all get caught up in the glow of our children’s eyes as they unwrap gifts, we need to shed light on the story of Hanukkah and the value of believing in real miracles. 

Stacey Marcus is a freelancer from Marblehead.

The Story of Hanukkah

Hanukkah celebrates the victory 2000 years ago of a small group of Jews called the Maccabees (who believed in one God), lead by Judah Maccabee, over the powerful Syrians who wanted everyone to worship their many gods. During the conflict, the Syrians defiled the Temple in Jerusalem with statues of their gods. Once victorious, the Maccabbees wanted to celebrate the cleaning and reclaiming of the Temple by lighting an eternal lamp. They found only enough oil to burn for one day. But a miracle occurred as the eternal lamp stayed lit for eight days. The Jews symbolize Hanukkah by lighting a Menorah - a candelabra that holds eight candles – one for each night of Hanukkah.

Children love reading with their parents. A perfect way to focus on the traditions of the holiday is by reading together some of the many children’s Hanukkah books that are available. Sokoll recommends “It’s Hanukkah!” by Santiago Cohen, “The Eight Nights of Chanukah” by Leslea Newman, “When Mindy Saved Hanukkah” by Eric Kimmel and “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah!” by Susan L. Roth. 

- Mark Sokoll, president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston.