Recounting the stories of The Hot Plate's own community manager:
When I think of Hanukkah a few things come to mind. One is the eight days full of partying, exchanging gifts, lighting the menorah and playing dreidel. The other is how Hanukkah has been for my family over the years.
My family celebrated quietly at home most of the time. My mom, brother and I would say the blessings over the candles and light them, and then we would open up our gifts for that night. My mom would also make her famous latkes that we slathered with applesauce or sour cream. Man did I love those latkes -- I still do. And as much as I love them I hate them at the same time. I mean have you ever tried to make them? You are basically frying onions and potatoes. That smell literally fills up the whole house and doesn't leave for days! To be exact about three, but if you open the windows maybe two.
My mom would make Latkes once during the eight days of Hanukkah and she would schedule it on the calendar so that she was fully prepared. I would always make sure that I knew the night that we would be feasting on these heavenly potato cakes, because I needed to prepare as well.
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My preparation didn't consist of food, it consisted of moving items from the downstairs area and storing them in my locked bedroom. I had learned from previous years that if items, such as my winter coat, were left hanging up they take on the smell of the latkes. When I would wear my coat the next day to school my locker, my hair, my book-bag and me would smell like these potato pancakes. I was basically a walking latke.
Since no one at my school was Jewish, they didn't know the smell I was dragging around with me and probably just thought I smelled weird. Not that this is my favourite memory of Hanukkah, but it is definitely what made it different from all the other Jewish Holidays. As well as great story to tell my kids one days when they complain about that latke smell.
Now although many people think that Hanukkah is all about getting gifts and eating as much as we can for eight days straight, it's not. It's about being with family and enjoying a meal together. For many of us eating a meal together as a family is rare nowadays. When I was away for University, I rarely ate dinner with people. So coming home for Winter Break and enjoying a meal with my family, was a gift all in itself. Hanukkah is a just a fancy name we Jews give to spending time together as a family and community. Synagogues have Hanukkah carnivals and parties, and some big families like my boyfriend's have a Hanukkah Luncheon every year. Basically we Jews love our get-togethers, no matter what the occasion.
This time of year was always something I cherished because I just got to be with the people I loved. I would give anything to go back to the days when I had to hide my belongings from the smell of latkes, just so I could be with my family one more time to say the blessings and light the menorah.