We celebrated the last night of Hanukah yesterday and already I am missing the nightly time spent with the season’s center piece — the menorah. We aren’t Jewish and we aren’t waxing religious, but the evening candle-lighting ceremony has come to be an important part of our winter. As I mentioned the other day, we’ve adopted various portions of other people’s holiday rituals as part of our family’s celebration of what we call Yule — and from Hanukah we’ve borrow the menorah.
In our version, there is a discussion of “the miracle of the oil”, around which Hanukah is centered, and a new candle lit each night during the eight days. By the end of the celebration, there are eight candles lit for commemoration, and one extra as the worker candle used to light the others. You can’t use the candles for anything other than the ritual, so you’re supposed to have at least one other light on near by, so that the candles aren’t accidentally used for light. We do our best to honour the spirit of the celebration, and explain the historical context (because we can’t stop homeschool just because it’s a holiday…), while remaining respectful of those for whom the holiday is a religious rite.
This year we made a play-doh “menorah” — we have our own more traditional version, but it is inaccessibly packed away in the storage unit for now. We fashioned a new candleholder each night, and filled both the existing holders in the menorah and the new holder with new candles. Then we lit the worker candle, used it to light all the others, and sat back together to watch and enjoy.
Tonight, we all missed it so much that we decided to light the odd remaining candle from the Hanukah set we bought. We set it in one of the play-doh holders we had left, and each of us said something for which we are thankful and then lit the candle. Natalie and I both sighed audibly as the wick caught and a flame stood up on its end.
I have often thought that more people would be religious if religion relied solely on its rituals — no preaching, no guilt, no fear-mongering, just ceremony. Our adaptation and use of Hanukah is definitely secularized, and that may be offensive to some, but what the candle ritual offers our family is worth both the plagiarism and its potential effect on more “authentic” practitioners, at least as far as we are concerned. Seriously, though, we spent eight nights in a row meditatively staring at candles together as a family for over an hour at a time. When else are we going to do that?
Well, maybe tonight…