Hannukah without a menorah is like Christmas without a tree; It still inevitably happens, but it doesn’t feel quite right, like listening to carols that are somewhat off-key. Holidays without family, though… Now that’s not a holiday at all, nothing more special than any other random date on the calendar. Even if they’re certifiable, if the grand dinner always comes out unpalatable, if the best gift they come up with is a pair of toe socks, all that matters is that they care enough to get together into one big dysfunctional group and put forth their best wishes for the season. Sure, I’ve been known to skip out on the party early on in the evening, but that doesn’t mean I dread it. Hannukah is in fact my very favorite holiday, as I’m sure much of the population can relate with. Watching loved ones’ eyes light up when they open your handmade gifts, their smiles spreading all the way into their hearts… Those are the moments that make the drudgery endured throughout the other 364 days of the year worth enduring. I’m still looking forward to those picture-perfect scenes when winter break releases my fellow students and I from the grip of classes and exams… But for now, for the whole of Hannukah, there will be their the symbolic candelabra nor the cheerful company. Stuck in a college dorm where candles, even unlit, are strictly forbidden, with parents that are half-way around the globe on some tropical cruse… Well, where’s the holiday cheer in that?
Blindsided by a holiday that comes far too early this year, there was no time to prepare, and little that could be done in the first place. On this first evening of Hannukah that quickly approaches as the sunlight already begins to wane so early in the afternoon, the loneliness is a tangible weight, crushing my chest and pressing down on my heart. I know, no one wants to hear about depression in the midst of so much merriment, but bear with me here- There is a light at the end of the tunnel. In this case, the light doesn’t actually glow or even get hot, but it does warm my spirits out of an icy state.
As a child, of course I would love the gifts, but presents would come and go- What I remember most vividly was our tradition of “lighting” a felt menorah. A giant, fuzzy, 2-D shape cut out of royal blue felt by my crafty mother, it would invariably hang in our picture window, shining for us on the inside and also visible to passersby on the streets. Stuck to the glass with a dab of rubber cement, it got so much use that eventually the adhesive absorbed into the fabric, and it would stick all on its own, no new glue required. It was a ritual that even I, the youngest, could participate in, whereas the use of real matches was terrifying even to me for many years. (I can only imagine how my parents felt!) Even after we moved and left that lovely picture window behind us, some creative maneuvering and strategic folds brought the huge felt menorah back, now slightly wrinkled from age and creased where it crossed over the various panes of glass in this smaller window.
So now, many miles away from home and many more miles away from my parents, I’ve found comfort in the continuation of this ritual, crafting my very own mini-menorah out of felt this year. It’s not nearly as impressive as the original, and it doesn’t allow this holiday’s shortcomings to be completely forgotten… But at least if feels a little bit more like Hannukah, not just another cold December evening.
Happy first night of Hannukah to those who celebrate it- May your candles glow brightly, in reality or in spirit.