Be the change you wish to see in the world...

- Gandhi

Monday, December 17, 2012

How I Celebrated Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah!
Happy Hanukkah!

I am a convert - became Jewish almost 7 years ago after being raised Catholic.  I was raised spiritual, not religious, and the conversion came about very naturally.  My husband and I had been married about 5 years at the time and together about 12 years (started dating in college).  We were raising our family Jewish so I was already a proud pro at the traditions and meanings of all the Jewish holidays.  Before I became Jewish, our home was a mixed bag of traditions.  A large Christmas tree adorned our living room, decorated in blue and silver sparkle.  My then two year-old met Santa at mommy's parents' house and Hanukkah Hank at daddy's parents' house.  The holidays were a chaotic, magical time where we celebrated everything and were all the merry for it.

Hanukkah came ten months after the first year of my conversion.  My heart and spirit had time to adjust to the changes I wanted to introduce to the family.  To my husband's disappointment, the tree did not go up in our home again.  We were a complete Jewish home now and I was proud to celebrate the Jewish traditions (lighting the menorah, eating latkes, spinning the dreidel...and opening a present every night for eight nights) in our home, while still having the great fortune of celebrating all of the splendor of Christmas with my parents.  I say all this to explain that my family truly does get the best of both worlds and my kids are better for it.  It has made their Jewish identity stronger and built strong family traditions - both at home and with their grandparents.  

That is what Hanukkah is about for me - reinforcing that identity and helping my kids relate and connect with others who are different from them (school holiday parties always provide a vast platform for discussion about religious differences, where my kids are maybe 1 of 2-3, if any Jewish kids).  I spend a lot of time planning each of the 8 nights, ensuring that we are with other Jewish families, celebrating traditions and understanding what Hanukkah means.  I ration out gifts to the kids, one per night which is a lot of fun, as the anticipation builds until night 8 (the gifts get bigger each night).  Here's how we celebrated this year (note the links to some of the recipes).

Night 1: This is usually our big family night with all of the grandparents, cousins, and aunts.  This year was spent at my sis-in-law's house who did a beautiful job with the dinner, kids activities and whole evening.  I brought my favorite Caesar Salad from Kind Diet, roasted broccolini, and a vegan cookie platter. She made chicken piccata and a seitan version just for me!

vegan latkes from VegNews
Vegan latkes
Night 2: Spent with close family friends, the Rinslers, this dinner is a tradition every Hanukkah, with each of us taking turns hosting.  This year, we traveled to Beverly Hills for our dinner, which was amazing.  The menu included spaghetti squash, a fennel salad, vegan latkes and a kale salad.  

Night 3: We celebrated with the Greenes, another tradition.  Alas, the husbands were working and out of town, so it was just the girls and my son, but no less fun.  I hosted this year and since both of us were racing home from gymnastics and dance classes that evening, I made a pasta dinner.  I wanted to incorporate oil, the miracle of the holiday, so I made a garlic and olive oil sauce over linguini, sauteed with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, capers and pine nuts.  My friend loved it.  Salad, bruschetta and some antipasto items rounded out the meal.

Night 4: Taco Tuesday went Hanukkah style!  By this time, we were all sick of latkes so fried taco shells took care of our oil quota!  We played Hanukkah dominoes and opened more presents.

Night 5: Our Temple held a Hanukkah Lights program with the religious school students.  Each family brought their own menorah and lit the candles.  My in-laws joined us and stayed for a community dinner that followed.

Night 6:  My husband's holiday party was that evening, and my older daughter had some after school activities, so this was a simple night, where we just lit the candles and opened presents.

Night 7: Our Temple's annual Hanukkah party took place this night - so much fun!   My husband created a latke/vodka bar this year, which was a big hit with the congregants.  

Night 8: We actually celebrated night 8 a day late with our havurah (Jewish group of families) at our annual family party.  My friend, Tanya, makes a wonderful sit-down lunch for the adults, while the kids get to run around and play.  We look forward to it every year.

If you celebrate Hanukkah, I hope your eight days were full of family time and delicious, fried foods!