Traditions remembered on the eve of Hanukkah
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Dec 07, 2012 | 2863 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The one thing Sherry Blanton would have people know about Hanukkah is that it is not the Jewish Christmas. And it’s not that important a holiday for those of the Jewish faith, said Blanton, a member of Temple Beth El in Anniston.

What Hanukkah is, she said, is a time when people across the world pause to commemorate the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after a Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E.

Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, begins this year at sundown tonight, when families will gather to light the first of nine candles in their menorahs. For the next eight days, another candle will be lit each evening, symbolizing the miracle of the oil, when, in order to rededicate the temple, one days’ worth of oil miraculously lasted for eight.

Some people do give gifts during Hanukkah, Blanton said, but “that’s really not what Hanukkah is all about.”

Hanukkah is not just about the miracle of the oil, either. It’s about memories made in childhood, and it’s about food.

“All traditions revolve around some sort of a meal together,” Blanton said. “You cannot have a tradition without a meal.”

That’s awfully close to what Christmas means to many, as tables fill with hams and turkeys and stuffing — all just weeks after Thanksgiving. But what makes Hanukkah different is the kinds of dishes served, and the meaning behind them.

“Instead of visions of sugarplums dancing through our heads, we look for latkes and applesauce and sour cream,” Blanton said, recalling memories of watching her mother carefully prepare a traditional Hanukkah meal of latkes, which are potato pancakes fried in oil to symbolize the miracle of oil.

One can find instant latke mix in a box at the grocery store this time of year, but that’s not how Blanton’s mother made them. She made them from scratch.

“She grated the potatoes and fried them in chicken fat, and we had sour cream. There’s nothing like watching your mother grate the potatoes, put them in a colander, wring them out,” Blanton said.

Many Jewish homes give presents of gelt, or “Hanukkah money.” Typically Jewish children receive money — or more often chocolate coins.

That’s what Blanton got. As a child, she would receive a box of chocolate coins, each wrapped in gold foil, from relatives in the north.

Since her childhood, Blanton has loved the tradition of singing “The Dreidel Song,” a tune about making and playing with a four-sided spinning top called a dreidel.

On each of the four sides of a dreidel are letters that, when put together, create the acronym for “A great miracle happened there,” referring to the miracle of the oil.

To play, players each place one token — often a chocolate coin — in the pot. Depending on which letter is face up after the spin, the player must either place another token in the pot, do nothing, take half of the tokens in the pot or take them all.

The odds of winning are about as good as in a game of blackjack, Blanton said, but she sure loved to sing the song while playing.

‘The Dreidel Song’

I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
When it’s dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.

It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin.
When it gets all tired, it drops and then I win!
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, with leg so short and thin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it drops and then I win!

My dreidel’s always playful. It loves to dance and spin.
A happy game of dreidel, come play now let’s begin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it loves to dance and spin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. Come play now let’s begin.

I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
When it’s dry and ready, dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.
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Traditions remembered on the eve of Hanukkah by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com