We have host families from a wide variety of backgrounds and faiths. Some celebrate Christmas, some Chanukkah, some Kwanzaa and some celebrate more than one of those or none of the above. That is something that makes America special, we can all be different, but still one united together.
I wanted to give a brief overview of Chanukkah and some of the customs you might observe. Something important to note is that Chanukkah is not the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. From a religious standpoint, it is a relatively minor holiday. So, the amount of emphasis put on Chanukkah and how it is celebrated will vary from one family to the next.
If your host family celebrates Chanukkah and you don’t, I would encourage you to take part and experience the customs of another religion. This can be a great opportunity for culture sharing. The same is true, if you are a host family and your au pair celebrates a different holiday than you.
Here is a simple explanation from Judaism 101:
Chanukkah is the festival of lights, commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a successful revolt against the Seleucid Greeks. As part of the rededication, the victorious Jews needed to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), but they had only enough oil to last one day and it would take eight days to prepare more oil. Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days. The miracle of the oil is commemorated with this eight-day candlelighting holiday.
Chanukkah begins between Thanksgiving and Christmas. About half of the time, it overlaps with Christmas, but there are many years when Chanukkah ends long before Christmas. In 2002, for example, Chanukkah began on Thanksgiving and ended in the first week of December, but that is unusual.
Almost all Jews light candles with their families for at least some nights of the holiday, so people like to be at home during this holiday. Although almost nobody takes off from work or school for this holiday, many may not want to work nights or travel during the holiday so they can light candles with the family, and accommodations should be made for this.
Here are some links for more info and children’s activities:
Some local Chanukkah events:
National Menorah Lighting December 13, 2009, 4 p.m. The Ellipse, 1600 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC (202) 332-5600. Celebrate the beginning of Hanukkah with speeches, music, activities for kids and the lighting of the National Menorah by Rabbi Levi Shemtov. This event is free, but tickets are required.
Chanukah Family Spectacular December 13, 2009, 5 p.m. Bethesda Row, 4801 Bethesda Ave., Chabad of Bethesda-Chevy Chase sponsors an event, featuring the largest Lego menorah in the Washington area, entertainment, crafts for the kids, latkes and chocolate coins.
Note: You will see Chanukkah spelled Hanukkah and several other ways. The correct English spelling is up for debate.