Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Where there's Light, there's food.

Hannukkah/Haunkah/Chanukah/Chanukkoh begins at sundown on 24 Kislev 5768, aka December 4, 2008.

Jewish holidays remind me of quiz shows. A whole lot of questions must be asked and answered before anyone is allowed to tuck into a meal. This is most exemplified by the four questions that are posed during the Passover seder. The key question for Chanukah is, "Why are the lights kindled?"

The correct answer to this question involves retelling the legend about a flask of oil that provided light for eight days. This miraculous occurrence provided more evidence of God's grace, plus the rationale for frying potato pancakes in oil, and eating donuts. Starting in the 14th century, before anyone realized the prevalence of lactose intolerance among Sephardic and Ashkenasik Jews, cheese dishes were also traditional fare for Chanukah.

Starting around the 17th century, the correct answer shifted to focusing on the Hasmonean revolt, victory against the Syrians, and re-dedication of the Temple's altar. (Judah Maccabee, his bros, and volunteer militia were Hasmoneans.) While this explanation is more historically accurate, I think it's perceived as less appealing because no food is involved. I could be wrong, given the number of NJKs (nice Jewish kids) currently enrolled in martial arts training. I'm a little out of the loop.

I haven't celebrated Chanukah en famille for many years. As a result, I rarely get my share -- let alone fill -- of latkes, chocolate Chanukah gelt, and donuts these days. Although there's certainly plenty to eat during the R.C. liturgical year, I probably should have thought through the gustatory specifics of religious conversion. Pretzels, if anything, are traditional for Advent because Advent is a penitential season. The Catholic cholesterol-a-thon doesn't happen until Christmas. I'll undoubtedly have more to say about that in a few weeks.

By the way, none of the menorahs (menorahim?) we had when
I was growing up were either as colorful or fun as the image I've artfully uploaded to this post. There was one exception -- a diminutive brass menorah. I still have it. The fact that it holds birthday candles is one reason I have it on my fireplace mantle next to a sweet little reproduction of "The Annunciation" by Fra Angelico.


  1. Aww Meridith! No Chanukah? You should come to my house. We're having Latke night on the 8th night and Fr. O'Driscoll will be joining us. In fact he never misses a Jewish holiday with us if he can help it....( must be the food.....)So if you're in Massachusetts next week you're invited.

    And it's not menorahim...Menorot (it's feminine)
    Actually the thing we use on Chanukah is a "chanukia", which I didn't know until I grew up and was already Catholic.......

  2. Thanks for visiting and for leaving a comment. You're the first beyond my immediate circle of encouraging friends.

    I'll have more to say about the distinction between regular and Chanukah menorot in another post. Meanwhile, about those latkes. With applesauce, sour cream, or both on the side?

  3. oh both of course!

  4. Hey Meredith,
    we should talk about our "conversions". You are Jewish turned Catholic, and I am grown-up Catholic turned Messianic - that's almost all Jewish, except I kept Jesus, or Yeshua, as they say in Hebrew! I went to High School with Ruth and just wrote her again today. I see too many coincidences!
    By the way, Happy Chanukkah! I just told Ruth about how Jesus is the shamash in the menorah. It's all connected!!


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