Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hanukkah - First Night

Please welcome our guest blogger Saarin, my friend and fellow dish collector to The Little Round Table for a series of posts first published in 2009.  Join us each day from Dec 1-9 as Hanukkah is celebrated.

Saarin's son Noah's story of Hanukka began the series:

Tonight at sundown, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, begins. This holiday is celebrated for eight nights in the month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, coinciding with the winter holiday season. Hanukkah (also sometimes spelled Chanukah) is a celebration of religious freedom and the dedication of Jews all over the world to keep their traditions alive. Also, it brings light into our homes at the darkest time of the year.

As the story goes, after the destruction of the Temple in the year 165 BCE, there was only enough oil left to keep the "eternal flame" burning for one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights, until more could be acquired. That's why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights, and why oil is a prominent part of the holiday.

There are eight nights of Hanukkah, but nine candles in the menorah. The ninth candle is called the "shamash", or helper candle, and it is set apart from the rest. The shamash candle is lit first with a match, and then the shamash is used to light the other candles. On the first night, there is one candle plus the shamash, and another candle is added each night. The candles are added from right to left, the same direction in which the Hebrew language is read.

Jewish holidays begin at sundown, and that's when the menorah is lit. There are special blessings that are spoken or sung as the candles are lit, and they are allowed to burn all the way down.

Families and friends gather, light the menorah (adding a candle each night), play games with tops called "dreidels" and chocolate coins, exchange gifts, and eat foods made with oil. Potato pancakes called "latkes" are a favorite treat. At my house, it has been a tradition for many years to invite the neighbors in for a potluck meal, light menorahs, and celebrate together. With a little help from my friends, I often prepare up to 100 latkes for the annual neighborhood gathering.

There are as many recipes for latkes as there are families who make them. When my son was small, I often read a book to him called "Grandma's Latkes" by Malka Drucker, illustrated by Eve Chwast (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1992.) As well as its charming story about family tradition, the book offers a simple recipe, and it's the one I've always used to make my own latkes. There are just a few ingredients--potatoes, onions, a little flour, an egg or two, some salt and pepper, and oil. In this photo you'll see Fiesta dishes both old and new: a vintage red mixing bowl, a post-86 marigold baking bowl, and a vintage turquoise fruit bowl.

For this first night table setting, I've used a Noah's Ark menorah from my son's childhood days, and I've chosen a color scheme reminiscent of the candles' flames. The Fiesta dishes are vintage, as is the glassware, the cloth napkin, and the Bakelite-handled flatware. Chocolate coins called "gelt" are in a vintage Harlequin nut dish. The tablecloth is Guatemalan, with a weave that happens to remind me of tiny menorahs.

While the candles burn down, children play a game with a dreidel like the wooden top displayed here. There are four Hebrew letters, one on each side of the dreidel: Nun, Gimmel, Hey, and Shin. These are the first letters of the words which make the sentence: (A) Great Miracle Happened There. The winner of each spin (the letters have values) gets some of the gelt--literally money--but usually it's played with foil-covered chocolate coins.

For a more complete description of how to play the game of dreidel, as well as other Hanukkah traditions, check out this site:


  1. Just a note about this post from last year by our guest poster Saarin: Blogger somehow chewed up and spit out the comments associated with this post. I've recovered the ones I could find from the comment logs.

    Candy,Thank you for letting Saarin tell us about Hanukkah. I love this celebration of a true miracle of God! Latke's are one of my favorite. I will have to try this great recipe! Thank you so much for this beautiful post! Yvonne
    By Yvonne @ StoneGable on 12/10/09

    Such a beautiful post and such lovely pictures to go along with Saarin's words!
    By Michael Lee West 12/10/09

    This was wonderful! I can't wait to hear more about Hanukkah in the coming days. Thank you, Saarin. You're an excellent "guest blogger". :)
    By ~M 12/10/09

    Thank you for sharing the story of Hanukkah, your decorations are so festive. Last Friday I posted a recipe for edible dreidels for my friend in California. I spent so many years celebrating Hanukkah with her family and she celebrating Christmas with mine. I'll have to send her a link to this post, I know she'll love it. Btw, I love your apron! I have a half apron made with a vintage California map scarf that a friend gave me years ago. Your picture just made me smile!
    By Rhonda @ Shellbelle's Tiki Hut 12/11/09

    What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing your recipes and photographs with us. Have a great Foodie Friday and a wonderful Hanukkah celebration.
    By Mary 12/11/09

    What a WONDERFUL!!! post filled with lots of photos and a GREAT!!! recipe. THANKS!!! for sharing. Geri
    By heartnsoulcooking 12/11/09

    What a lovely post. I can't wait till next week:)
    By The Fajdich Times 12/11/09

    Thank you all for your nice comments! I'm enjoying sharing Hanukkah with you! Saarin
    By Saarin 12/11/09

  2. I really enjoyed reading about the traditions and that table setting is lovely.

  3. Thank you for posting this.I enjoyed it very much.The miracle is thrilling.

  4. Hello Candy,

    thank you for reposting Saarin's wonderful post. I am not so familiar with jewish holidays and so it was really interesting to learn about Hanukkah. But I am very familiar with silver religious cult objects like Hanukkah lighters, which has been often produced by the Hanau silver manufacturers before WWII. So now I knew a bit more. There are lots of things in our German life which has outlived the bad times. So the Latkes are here very common and we all love to eat them. On the Christmas markets here are always stands where you can buy them very fresh made. We only have a different word for it. And also the word "Gelt" sounds very familiar, we use "Geld" for money. Next are the golden foiled chocolate coins. They still exist here, although they are not adorned with the Menorah but with some oldfashioned coin pattern. It seems for me a very happy holiday that all together celebrate and play. I love the arche Menorah with all the little animals. They look as if they knew that they serve for an important holiday. And the very cheerful Fiesta is part of it as usual. I like those happy colors. For all who celebrate Hanukkah I wish a wonderful celebration and a good time. And I think we will have this evening Latkes, too.
    Greetings, Johanna

  5. Hi Johanna!

    I love these posts that Saarin did and I also learned a great deal from them.


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Thank you for your lovely comments.

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