We are a little over a week away from the Winter Solstice, the day that brings the most darkness to this hemisphere. It’s no accident that the holidays of many traditions occur at this darkest time of year. May lighting tonight’s first candle of Hanukkah be a step toward bringing us all closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.
The spirit of light
by Sue Robin, Los Angeles, California
I have three Hanukkiahs in my home. One is a Papa Bear size brass one (13 inches tall) that can accommodate oil as the original did, though it has never been used in that manner. Finding candles to fit is not an easy task for this big guy. Consequently, he lay wrapped in a box for many years. Instead, I opted to use a Baby Bear one (6 inches tall) in which birthday candles fit just fine. The third is a Mama Bear size silver-colored metal one that is just right. I inherited it from my mom in 2005.
Beautiful Hanukkiahs have tempted me over the years, in art catalogues and museums. My eyes take in their sensuous forms and uniqueness as I imagine how the candles would enhance their already enticing look, but I always say no. The one I use now and the one that brings the most joy is the one my mom had on the mantel with tin foil underneath to catch the wax. It is plain, a utilitarian object that is filled with countless memories and mother love. Everyone in my family has touched it and taken their turn lighting the candles. It is the one that carries the spirit of light through the ages.
One of the first Hanukkahs, maybe 1992, that my Catholic sweetheart and I were together, he came home with a beautifully wrapped present for me. As I unwrapped it, I could see the pleasure he had in gifting me and that he could barely wait to see my reaction. I pulled the gift from its wrappings and, lo and behold, he had brought me a lovely, heavy brass candelabra—but with only seven candleholders.
I am afraid my reaction was not what he expected. I told him how thoughtful it was and that it was a beautiful thing to behold, but that it was not one that I could use for Hanukkah. He looked perplexed and disappointed. I explained that the Hanukkiah has eight candleholders, one for each night and then a ninth for the shammas (the helper used to light all the other candles). The seven-candle holder is the type that was lit in the ancient temples and that today is used to celebrate Kwanza. When he returned it to the store, the salesclerk said she thought he knew it was for Kwanza and, though they had a “No returns policy,” she allowed for it this one time. Year after year, this story makes us chuckle and continues to be for us the epitome of “It’s the thought that matters”!
Today, I read an article by Erica Perl encouraging Jews to add a ninth day to Hanukkah and that the last candle would be to honor all the essential workers. The idea touched me, but I realized that we do not need to add another day of jelly donuts and latkes (unless you want, of course!) or another candle, but that those of us who celebrate Hanukkah this year might take a moment, as we light the shammas, to honor and thank all the helpers in the world in all their different disguises and to remember with love all those who have perished.
May the light of this holiday season, be it Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanza, bring forth healing. No matter how or what you celebrate, take a minute to open your heart to the light and give thanks.