Eight days to celebrate miracles, to make memories with family, to share with our community.
Hanukkah means much more to me than just eight days of gifts.
It is a time to be with family, to teach traditions to our children and to help others who are in need.
Our preparations for the holiday began right around Thanksgiving, when we decorate our home for this "festival of lights."
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Along with my husband, Howie; our son, Barry, 1; and our daughter, Samantha, 31/2 (the 1/2 is very important to her), we transformed our home for the holiday.
Our collection of menorahs were placed on the mantel, the dreidels were set out and the kids helped put up the window clings. I love seeing the smiles on the kids' faces as they get to decorate with Mommy and Daddy.
It is one of many things we will do together as a family.
On each night of Hanukkah, we will light one candle until all are lit on the eighth night. A blessing in Hebrew is said as we light the candles.
This is the first year Samantha will be able to join the prayers. I can't believe she is old enough already to learn the blessings.
The candles are lit to symbolize the miracle that happened long ago. According to the story, the Maccabees, a small Jewish army, were victorious over the larger Syrian army after the Syrians desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. After reclaiming the Temple, the Maccabees found only one vat of oil, enough to keep the eternal light burning for only one day.
The miracle is that the oil burned for eight days.
After lighting the candles, we read Hanukkah books, eat Hanukkah gelt - gold-covered chocolate coins - and, of course, open a gift. Both kids are old enough to open gifts on their own, and I am thrilled to watch their excited faces as they open their presents.
The children get to choose one gift to open each night from the gift table. But we want our kids to understand helping other families, as well. This year we will be participating in our congregation's project to help Barium Springs Home for Children in Troutman.
Although Barry is a bit young to understand, Samantha and I will go shopping to purchase much-needed items for the children of Barium Springs. She will get to see the project through when we drop off the items at the annual Lake Norman Jewish Congregation's Hanukkah party Dec. 3.
It is important to my husband and me for our children to develop a strong Jewish identity. Being a part of community events are a way to build a sense of community with our congregation.
And of course, a party just isn't a party without delicious food, games and fun.
It is traditional to eat fried foods during Hanukkah because they are cooked in oil, a significant symbol. We will eat latkes, which are potato pancakes, and doughnuts.
For the adults, a dreidel game tournament will take place while the children enjoy Hanukkah-themed crafts and activities. The Sunday school students will perform songs and recite blessings during the service portion of our celebration. Samantha is in the preschool class and will participate also.
I truly love this time of year. It is a happy time to be thankful for all I have.
Hanukkah begins this year at sundown today.