This year, Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 20th. This Jewish Festival of Lights lasts for eight nights. Using a candelabra called a menorah, one candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second night, and so on, progressing to eight on the last night. Hanukkah celebrates religious freedom and the miracle of how a tiny amount of temple oil burned for eight days and nights.

Over two thousand years ago, Antiochus IV's army seized and looted the Jewish holy temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the worship of the Greek god, Zeus. Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death and ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods. After two years of rebellion, the Jews regained the temple. They decided that it needed to be rededicated by burning ritual olive oil in the temple's menorah for eight days and nights, but they found only one day's supply of oil. They lit the menorah anyway, and, to their astonishment, the tiny amount of oil burned for eight days and eight nights!

My parents were Jewish but not religious. In their wisdom, instead of turning away from holiday celebrations, they embraced all of them. I grew up lighting Hanukkah candles, decorating the Christmas tree, and singing both Hanukkah songs and Christmas carols to my mother's accompaniment on the piano.

How I loved those glass bubble lights on our Christmas tree! I'd wait patiently each night for the lights to be plugged in and for the colored liquid to start heating, so I could inspect each light individually, flicking my finger on the glass of those that were slow to start bubbling.

Some of our relatives disapproved of my parents' holiday traditions and refused to come to our house in December. Some of my Christian friends thought my parents were strange indeed. When my father died unexpectedly one holiday season, my mother made sure that our holiday traditions continued, even adding a "Hanukkah bush" to the mix. We'd buy a tiny tree at our local Christmas tree lot. Then we'd go through our Christmas ornaments, picking out the blue and white ones—the traditional colors of Hanukkah—and decorate our Hanukkah bush, adding some homemade touches, like a paper cut-out that read "Happy Hanukkah."

Hanukkah can start any time from late November to late December. I remember how special it was when one of the eight nights overlapped with Christmas—we'd light our Hanukkah candles as our Christmas tree glowed (and bubbled) nearby.

So, in honor of my parents: Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, a wonderful Kwanzaa, and a wild Winter Solstice!

© 2011 Toni Bernhard

Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.

I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

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