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Chanukah in New Hampshire

Alla Kemelmakher on Unsplash

I came across this song, Chanukah in West Virginia by Scott Simons, in a Chanukah-themed playlist on Spotify. It describes the singer's experience as Jew in West Virginia, a place not well known for a Jewish population, and celebrating Chanukah when everyone around him is focused on the upcoming Christmas.

The song, though played straight, is intended to be humorous. However, it hits close to home for me and my family. Even in New Hampshire, one of the least religious states in the nation, Christmas is still celebrated with fervor (though more aimed at Santa Claus and modern traditions than the Nativity). The pagan roots of Christmas is a topic for another day.

As the song points out, it can be difficult to focus on the nine lights on the Hanukkiah when there's a bedazzled Christmas tree in every street-facing window on the block. For being the Festival of Lights, Chanukah has been relegated to a lesser "Jewish Christmas," falling silently backstage while many winter traditions are applied to Christmas alone.

The past few years of celebrating Chanukah, we've kept things on the down-low. A Hanukkiah or two, some dreidel, sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and latke (potato pancakes). The decorations go up on the first night, down on the eighth. We exchange presents, but otherwise, the festival spirit is lacking. It's rote, not a celebration.

A reminder of the origins of celebrating Chanukah:

"They celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days and joyfully offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.

They decorated the front of the temple with gold crowns and shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests and furnished them with doors.

There was great rejoicing among the people inasmuch as the disgrace inflicted by the Gentiles had been removed.

Then Judas, his brothers, and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days marking the rededication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days every year on the anniversary, beginning on the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev."

1 Maccabees 4:56-59 NCB

Praise, thanksgiving, lustrous decorations, great rejoicing, joy, gladness, all ways of celebrating the revolt and the miracle. In my heart, I had the joy for the rededication, but it was stuck there, in my mind, and not in my actions. A large portion of November and December had been grumbling about everything being Christmassy, and not enough celebrating the holiday I was supposed to be celebrating.

There's a reason why we put the lit Hanukkiah in a window. We have these lights, evidence of G-d's miracle, and we want to share that with the world. It's easy when you're surrounded by like-minded people, all lighting their own Hanukkiahs and setting them out. But it gets harder when you're on your own, small candlelight in a sea of fluorescent lit up trees. We have to remember:

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on a lampstand so it gives light to all in the house."

Matthew 5:14-15 TLV

This year, we're going to be celebrating in full force.

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