I am passionate about renewing the festivals that are important to us so that we celebrate them in a way that is authentic to our unique family values and culture. I have noticed that there are many guides and articles about how Waldorf-inspired families celebrate Christian and/or Pagan festivals but very few about how others mindfully celebrate their family’s festivals and I want to change that.
It is my hope that this journal entry and many more to come will inspire others with similar belief systems to renew, recreate and celebrate this festival in their own way. I also believe it is vital that those who don’t share the same spiritual heritage acknowledge and witness the beauty and goodness in others’ traditions. There is so much to learn and enjoy about our diversity.
This Journal entry is in interview style. Tanya Morales and Sarah Tziporah Moser generously took the time to share how their families celebrate Hanukkah together. To learn more about them, please see their biographies at the end of this post.
In your words, what is Hanukkah?
“Hanukkah”, also spelled, “Chanukah” celebrates the historical victory of the Jewish people taking back and their holy temple from the Syrian Greeks. The story goes, that only a little bit of oil was found to light the seven branch menorah. In fact, it was only enough for one day, but miraculously the lamp remained alight for 8 days, which was just long enough for new oil to be prepared. Sarah Tziporah adds, “Chanukah is a celebration of kindling light in darkness. Since it usually falls around Solstice, it reminds us of the importance of gathering together and sharing gratitude for our families and for the abundant blessings in our lives. The story of Chanukah reminds us of the miracles of life and the blessing of the hearth and all that it symbolizes in our home.”
What does Hanukkah symbolize and mean to you and your family?
For Tanya’s family, “Hanukkah symbolizes nonconformity and miracles. This year in particular has significant meaning, as I prepare to formally convert to Judaism. I am rededicating my ‘temple’, I will stand up for my truth, and the lights of Heaven will sustain me.” For Sarah Tziporah, “Chanukah symbolizes light, warmth, love, and gathering. The story of Chanukah is politically complex, and involves a violent and bloody war in which the tiny band of Maccabees destroyed an army much larger than them. We try not to focus on the violence of war, but take the message about persistence and the belief that anything is possible and to give life to our dreams.”
Can you draw a parallel between this festival and the natural world around us? Is there a connection between what is happening seasonally and what this festival symbolizes?
Hanukkah aligns with the winter solstice. As the light begins to increase in the natural world around us, the number of candles lit on the menorah also increases. Tanya adds, “They are a reminder that brighter days will always come.” In this time of outer cold when the outside world is frozen, Sarah Tziporahalso adds, “We gather together to kindle lights and cook rich, tasty meals together to come together in warmth and light”.
What beliefs/virtues/values do you hope to bring to light by honouring this tradition?
Sarah Tziporah says that “Chanukah always reminds us of the importance of celebration and coming together. We dispel the cold by gathering by the hearth, kindling lights, frying latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (sweet donuts) and expressing love for each other, our community, and our traditions. Chanukah reminds us to believe that miraculous things happen and are possible in our lives — we must have faith that if we put our intentions in the direction of our dreams, we can reach them.” Tanya shares the way in which the story of the Maccabees touches her: “There are a group of people who refuse to defile the sabbath by fighting for their lives on this holy day. In contrast, on the following sabbath day, Judah Maccabee says, “We will all die if we do not fight!”. This story highlights a value that is dear to my heart: “live and let live”. Some will be called to fight, and some to lay down their lives. Follow your path and allow the space for others to follow theirs.
How do you set the scene for Hanukkah? Is there anything you do in advance before the first day to mark or model that this time is coming?
Tanya’s family puts up lights, gets out the hanukkiahs, and listens to all the Hanukkah songs by groups 613 and the Maccabeats. Sarah Tziporah’s family decorates the front door with a wreath and harvests whatever is around to decorate the house. They also make dried orange and quince slice garlands, hang evergreen branches, red berries, preserves, and twinkle lights. We connect deeply to our local flora to tie the holiday with the Nature around us.
How do you prepare the day before Hanukkah?
Sarah Tziporah shares, “We set out the menorah/Chanukiah (traditional 9-branched candelabra) and create a little altar around it with crystals, branches, pine needles, anything we like! We wrap presents and set them in a central location in the house. We usually host a latke-party or attend one at a friend’s house. They are especially celebratory occasions — the party happens in the kitchen, with adults taking turns frying latkes and folks eating them as they come out of the oil, topping with sour cream and applesauce.” Tanya places all the chocolate gelt into a glass bowl, gathers all the driedels, and has them on the table ready to be played with!
Are there any elements of this tradition that are for adults only? Both Sarah Tziporah and Tanya believe that this particular festival is inclusive in every respect without any restrictions on children’s participation.
How are children involved during Hanukkah? What do they look forward to the most?
Sarah Tziporah says, “It is a really fun holiday, because we eat sweets, exchange gifts, and play games. Children look forward to helping make latkes and sufganiyot (long-process fried foods) and to playing dreidel, a traditional spinning-top game. We eat “gelt” — chocolate coins — and sing songs for the season. Each of the eight nights, we kindle a corresponding number of candles on the menorah. It is fun to choose colorful candles or make a homemade menorah and candles with children. Lighting the menorah is a wonderful opportunity to bestow responsibility on the children and allow them to lead the family in blessing the holy lights.”
Tanya’s children love the delicious latkes and playing dreidel! She shares, “More pressing of an issue for my children at this time is the need for community. Being in between religions is hard! We were just invited to a community Hanukkah party and I can’t tell you how thankful and excited I am. Not having a community to celebrate with for so long has taught me so many lessons. Lessons on inclusiveness, acceptance, and empathy for the lonely (which I’ve always had, but my understanding of loneliness has expanded).”
Anything else you would like to share about celebrating Hanukkah with your young children?
Both Sarah Tziporah and Tanya share similar sentiments about the true meaning of Hanukkah. Tanya says, “Hanukkah is not a commercialized holiday for us. Some years I get them a little something and some years I don’t. It’s more of a cozy, lively, yummy celebration, reminding us that the darkness only lasts for so long!” Sarah adds, “No matter their age, it is most important to light the menorah each night and chant the blessings together as a family. The holiday is not about gift-giving and eating fried foods — although those are lovely traditions — it is about gathering together and expressing our thanks to each other, Mother Nature, and God for bringing us light in darkness.”
Thank you so much to Tanya andSarah Tziporah who lovingly poured energy into sharing their Hanukkah traditions. We would LOVE to hear more of your thoughts in the comments section below. If you celebrate this holiday, what does it mean to you? How do you incorporate it into your seasonal rhythm? What inspired you about Sarah Tziporah and Tanya’s traditions?
Tanya lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and four daughters, three of whom she homeschools, and one attends online public school. She was drawn to Judaism during an intense self-discovery phase which occurred after having her fourth daughter, which was her first natural birth after three c-sections, at 40 years old. The truth of nonconformity and living her truth became blindingly evident. The first half of conversion (as she likes to call it) is done… that part where you wrestle with every imaginable emotion. And now she seeks a rabbi to help with her formal conversion. Toward a life and a people, which for her, are destiny.
Kohenet Sarah Tziporah is a current rabbinical student and ordained Kohenet (Hebrew Priestess) living in West Sonoma County, California. She specializes in intuitive herbal and energetic healing, altar-work, and expanding liturgy. She helps facilitate the discovery of open portals in nature through ritual leadership, wilderness skills, and responsible boundary-tending. Sarah Tziporah studied for over four years with the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute and was ordained as a Kohenet Hebrew Priestess in 2018. She is now working toward her Masters of Rabbinic Studies and rabbinic ordination at the Academy for Jewish Religion California. Her work tends portals of birth, death, and all crossings-over, loving through grief and inviting sacred silence, lifting up those she touches with heart-centered receiving and true genuine presence. Find her at www.sarahtziporah.com or @sarahtziporah on Instagram.