September 22, 2019

Chanukah enlightened

If it feels like we just cleaned up the dishes from Thanksgiving, it’s because we did. Once again, Chanukah is falling close to Turkey Day. With a mere six days between holidays, it can be tough to switch gears so fast.

One year, when I was in college, the two holidays fell so close together that my mother announced she would be combining them. Our family dinner consisted of turkey, Mom’s famous stuffing, Mom’s famous brisket and her to-die-for latkes. Weird? Yes, but delicious!

Chanukah commemorates the miracle that occurred after the Maccabees reclaimed control of Jerusalem and the Temple from the Syrians in the second century B.C.E. When it came time to rededicate the Temple, the Maccabees found oil sufficient to burn for only one day. Instead, the oil lasted for eight days.

During each day of Chanukah, which means “dedication,” Jews all over the globe light their Chanukah menorahs — or chanukiyahs — to symbolize the Festival of Light. The chanukiyah features nine branches — eight candleholders and a separate candleholder for the shamash (servant) candle, which is used to light the other candles. Candles should be added to the chanukiyah from right to left, but the candles are lighted from left to right.

Another way we celebrate and remember the miracle is to eat foods fried in oil. Traditional foods include latkes, doughnuts called sufganiyot, fried cheeses and blintzes.

Gifts, while not a mandated part of the festival, are usually exchanged. (Many attribute the gift-giving component to cultural factors and a perceived competition with Christmas.) Gelt is given as chocolate coins, actual money or a combination of the two. Other traditions include singing Chanukah songs (“Oh, Chanukah”) and playing games with the dreidel.

So, Chanukah seems pretty cut-and-dried. But what if you’d like to add a little oomph to the celebration? From food to decorations, there are loads of ways to spice up the festivities.

For a creative way to bridge the six-day gap between Thanksgiving and Chanukah, try repurposing your Turkey Day sweet potatoes for Chanukah.

“Sweet potato latkes are a great alternative to regular potato latkes,” said Brandon Wolf, a Sherman Oaks-based chef. “The sweetness and texture are a bit different, plus sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients.”

For a Chanukah dessert, Wolf recommends apple latkes. “They are kind of like apple fritters, only a bit more healthful.”

If you’re tired of the same-old blue-and-white or blue-and-silver decorations, take a hint from designers and party planners by incorporating the season’s hottest trends.

“The monochromatic look is in,” said Adee Drory, owner of Event Pros LA. “For an easy transition between Thanksgiving and Chanukah, think about using copper-colored décor,” Drory said, “and the theme can carry through from the decorations to the food.”

If you just can’t give up the blues, silvers and whites, try thinking about incorporating more of a winter theme.

“Think about using blue flowers with branches as a centerpiece,” said Annette Melin, a West Valley-based interior designer and owner of Diva Designs. Melin also suggests setting your table with a white tablecloth and white dishes, accented with blue candles, glass beads and napkins.

Step outside of your home for a special Chanukah activity. Community menorah lightings (see Calendar, Page 35) have grown in popularity.

When it comes to gift giving, consider adding a name to your list. Pick your family’s favorite charity and designate one of the eight nights for tzedakah. Encourage children to donate one of their gifts to children who are less fortunate.

Keeping the theme of tzedakah going during a time that often is filled with excess is a great way to convey the theme of tikkun olam, repairing the world, as we celebrate the miracle of Chanukah..