Happy Hanukkah, everyone! From today until the 8th, The Jewish Festival of Lights called Hanukkah (sometimes Chanukah) will be observed by Jews all around the world. To reflect on the holiday, today’s post is from Katie of BarefootFloors.com, which is a comparison shopping engine for home improvement products. Katie tells us a story of her time in Prague, and a Hanukkah celebration far from home …
Most people who celebrate Hanukkah have their first one when they’re babies, surrounded by their family, and grow up with the tradition. Those people also tend to be Jewish. I was 22, studying abroad in Prague, and didn’t know much about the tradition except that my Jewish roommate wasn’t going to have anyone else to celebrate with.
Before the first night of Hanukkah, we gathered all kinds of candles from girls down the hall (the dorm smelled a little funny, so there were plenty). We bought a roll of aluminum foil to make a makeshift menorah, walked around until we found a corner shop with thin, tall candles, and set it up in our bedroom window. She told me that the point of the menorah is not to light up the house it’s in but to glow out the window for other people to see and think of the miracle of oil lasting in a Temple for eight days instead of one.
Another thing we wanted to get right was the food. Luckily, her family’s traditional meal is pretty simple: cheese and anything fried in oil. So, after class, we opened up the little table to bread the chicken and roll out pastry dough. Our tiny dorm stove was just big enough for two frying pans at once, but we managed not to burn ourselves or the food.
We got a little weepy, thinking about friends and family, and from chopping onions for the latkes. It got so hot in there that we had to open the window, where I almost knocked the menorah down three stories to the cobblestones, and we set it down on the table. We were in good spirits and argued about whether the potato pancakes needed applesauce, ketchup, or sour cream. We also found out a little too late that what we had bought, with a Czech label we hadn’t read right, was not sour cream.
Once it got fully dark, we got a few people from down the hallway to join us. We lit the first candle on the menorah with the center shammosh candle and then lit our strings of colored lights and all the other candles in the room. We filled our plates and ate everything. The two lit birthday candles burnt to a stub in less than the full half hour they were supposed to be lit, but we let the other flames flicker all night as we stayed up sharing stories about faith and our traditions.
We bought more little candles and replaced them every night. The room smelled like pine and flowers from the scented candles, and all the lights reminded me of falling asleep next to a Christmas tree when I was a little girl. I was honored to be part of her celebration, to learn more about Hanukkah than I would have if we hadn’t been stranded half a world away together.
Thanks, Katie. And Happy Hanukkah to everyone!