Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Celebrate holidays with family

December 12, 2007

Tonganoxie residents who have known me since I started working at The Mirror in May know me as the sports guy.

I'm fine with that connection. Sports play a huge part in my life. They were the primary reason I studied journalism at the University of Kansas. They've already provided me with countless memories as a fan. My family and I have planned days, weekends and week-long vacations around sports.

Truth be told, there's more to me than just sports.

I value family, particularly during the holiday season. Downtown Tonganoxie - with its Christmas lights, music and red ribbons - has a cheerful and inviting atmosphere right now. It puts me in a good mood.

I'm confident saying that my holiday experience differs from most Tonganoxie residents. I grew up in a Jewish household in Plano, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas. When the holiday season rolls around each year, I celebrate Hanukkah with my mom, dad and brother.

Brief history lesson: Hanukkah, an eight-day Jewish celebration, is referred to as the Festival of Lights. It celebrates the freedom won by the army of Judah Maccabee over the Seleucid Empire. The empire's ruler, Antiochus IV, persecuted countless Jews in Jerusalem, the holiest city in Israel.

You may have realized Hanukkah occurs at a different part of the year each holiday season. This is because the Hebrew calendar differs from the Gregorian calendar. Hanukkah occurs on the same day each year on the Hebrew calendar - the 25th of Kislev. On the Gregorian calendar, it falls anywhere from the end of November to the end of December.

There are several traditions that enrich the Hanukkah experience. The symbol of Hanukkah is a menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum used to light a candle for each of the eight nights of the holiday.

When I think about spending time with my family for the holidays, mom's home cooking instantly comes to mind. During Hanukkah, potato pancakes, known as latkes, are the highlight for me.

Latkes serve a historical significance. It's common for Jewish families to feast on food that is fried or baked in oil for Hanukkah. When the birthplace of Judaism - the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem - was desecrated, it was thought there was only enough oil to fuel the temple's flame for one day. The oil ended up burning for eight days, which was miraculously enough time to get additional oil and rebuild the Temple. This is why we have eight days of Hanukkah.

In fact, Hanukkah means "dedication," in large part because of the re-dedication of the Temple.

The holiday has an entertainment value as well. I'm sure some residents have heard the dreidel song. The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top that is used for entertainment during Hanukkah. Each side represents a different outcome after you spin it: Taking everything in the pot, taking half the pot, giving up some items or passing your turn. The game is typically played for candy.

Honestly, though, the aforementioned traditions aren't as memorable as spending time with my family.

Hopefully, you learned something about Hanukkah that you didn't know before you read this column. More importantly, I hope my mentioning of family made you think of spending valuable time with your family during the holidays. After all, it's the most important part of this time of the year, regardless of which holiday you celebrate.

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