Not every military family celebrates Christmas
Photo: DVIDS, Sgt. Matt Britton

By Ashley Green

Chanukah, also known as the festival of lights, is a Jewish holiday many people have heard of, but unless you’re Jewish or know someone who is Jewish, you’ve probably never truly experienced it. When I was growing up, my family celebrated both Christmas and Chanukah as a part of blending my parents’ religious backgrounds. While Christmas holds very special memories in my mind and heart, Chanukah has its own unique magic that has left a lasting impression on me. Throughout the years I’ve grown to truly cherish the memories I have celebrating Chanukah with my family.

Chanukah is a commemorative holiday that celebrates a miracle for the Jewish people. The story begins when the ancestors of Jewish people, known as the Maccabees, rose up against the Syrian-Greeks after they outlawed Judaism and instead forced them to worship idols. The Maccabees won the battle and returned to find their temple dishonored. In order to spiritually cleanse the temple, the Jews burned ritual oil. They soon realized they only had enough oil for one night but decided to light the menorah anyway. To their surprise, the menorah stayed lit for eight full days. Chanukah is celebrated for eight days and nights to commemorate the miracle of the oil.

Just like Christmas traditions can differ from family to family, Chanukah traditions can differ as well. The main tradition in practice is the lighting of the menorah candles. Each night the main candle that sits in the middle of the menorah, called the shamash, is lit. It is then used to light the first of the eight candles. An additional candle is lit each night until there are eight candles and the shamash lit.

The lightning of the menorah is also accompanied by a Hebrew prayer that gives praise to God.  I remember the lightning of the menorah and how watching the glow of the candles made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It made each night of Chanukah so special as our family gathered together to light the menorah.

Not every military family celebrates ChristmasPhoto: Ashley Green

In keeping with the theme of oil miracle, Jewish people traditionally eat latkes for Chanukah. Latkes are fried thin potato and onion fritters served with applesauce and– brace yourself for this culinary conundrum–sour cream. It sounds strange but it’s a must try! Trust me! I still remember the sound of the latkes sizzling in the pan. They smell so delicious! Before my Mom could get them to the table, I couldn’t help but get my hands on that golden deliciousness!

Another sweet memory I have of Chanukah is playing dreidel with my cousins at my Grandmother’s house. Dreidel is played with a four-sided spinning top that has Hebrew letters on each side. Each Hebrew letter has a meaning and the game involves playing with Chanukah gelt which are tinfoil-covered chocolate coins.

Similar to Christmas, small gifts are given during Chanukah as a way to enrich the magic of the holiday. This has been a more recent Chanukah tradition, especially since the holiday is so close to Christmas. While I remember getting small gifts for Chanukah, my parents and grandparents really made the holiday all about the traditions of Chanukah and the gathering of our family.

Each of the Chanukah traditions adds to merriment and creation of warm memories that will last a lifetime. For me, Chanukah was such a special time for my family as we gathered around the table to light the menorah, eat latkes, and play dreidel. It was a time for celebration and for family. I will never forget those memories and they now hold such a special place in my heart. This Chanukah, I plan to introduce my son to some of these Chanukah traditions so that he too will grow to love and cherish Chanukah as I have.

No matter what holiday your military family chooses to celebrate, if you celebrate more than one, or if you don’t celebrate any particular holiday, the most important thing is to create family traditions that will bring your family close together while you make treasured memories.

Ashley Green works from home as a freelance writer. Her husband is active duty Air Force and together they have a 3-year-old son. She spent just over 4 years in Air Force as an Information Manager. She has a Bachelors in Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College. She is currently an active member of the Spangdahlem Air Base community and spends her time enjoying life as a military spouse in Germany.