Shortly after midnight as the clock rolled to December 26, our family arrived home from a wonderful Christmas celebration at my in-laws’. Instead of our customary four menorahs, we just brought one forward and lit the Hanukkah candles for the 8th and final time this year. As the candles burned down, everyone trundled off to bed exhausted by the day’s festivities. All too aware that the menorah was just feet from the flammable Christmas tree, I stayed awake and straightened up the house as the candles burned down.
From the kitchen, I smelled a faint whiff of smoke. This was not my fear of an incendiary evergreen coming true, but rather the little bit of extra smoke that each candle emits as it sputters and the light dies. I walked back in to watch the final five lights expire, each sending up its own smoke signal.
This end sparked in me a moment of melancholy. As a home that celebrates two faiths, there felt like so much build up to these two overlapping moments. Without these flames, what would brighten the rest of this long, cold winter? Hanukkah is far from the most significant moment in the Jewish holiday cycle, but I truly love its simplicity. It does not require pomp and circumstance. I don’t cook for 30 people or dress up or clean my house. Most years, I don’t even clean the wax off the menorahs. But for eight nights, my family and I take a few moments, stand together in the front window of our home, and kindle a light to share with anyone who walks by.
Now, one could argue that Hanukkah is not really about light. Perhaps it is about revolution or freedom or miracles or faith. But a beautiful thing about Judaism is that sometimes it shapeshifts in front of us to become what we need it to be at that moment. And this year, I needed Hanukkah to be about light and so it was. Leaving my melancholy behind, then the question that is left for me now is how to bring the light of Hanukkah forward until the sunshine returns to this dreary Michigan winter (which tends to be roughly around Pesach).
Turning to the next secular holiday of New Year’s, my wish is that each of us can internalize the light that we kindled over Hanukkah. My wish is that we realize there is light enough to share with each other over these next months — to illuminate the world and to feel a collective sense of possibility. Even though our many menorahs (hanukiot?) may be packed away with the wax residue of this year still stuck to their branches, we can recall the warm joy we felt at the flickering lights and commit ourselves to be the light that each of us would like to see in the world.