This Thursday our Jewish friends are in the middle of celebrating Chanukah. Each evening of the eight day Festival of Lights families and communities will gather together to light the menorah candles. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks sometime around 165 BCE. After three years of war the Maccabees returned to the Temple of Jerusalem. Finding only enough oil for one night, when the temple required eight days worth of oil for its purifying and rededication, miraculously the one day of oil burned for eight days and nights.
Chanukah is a time to come together, to remember and celebrate with rites and customs which connect Jewish people in different countries and from differing traditions, sharing food and giving gifts. Every community and family has its own particular Chanukah customs, memories and recipes. It is a time to connect across the generations and an opportunity to explore your own family traditions.
For those of us for whom Chanukah is not part of our religious and cultural heritage, as we draw close to the winter holidays and to Christmas it can also be a time to share and explore together our own family traditions past and present.
Particularly for families whose ancestors lived in different countries to the present generation, there may be distinct long-held traditions whose precise origins are perhaps unknown but add to the rich heritage of special occasions. The name of Chanukah itself points to variety within its celebration: the festival’s alternative spellings Channukah, Hanukkah, Hannukah and Hannukkah are based on different forms of transliteration. The influence of former linguistic and cultural heritage on diasporic Chanukah traditions is highly personal and meaningful.
Gathered together for the wintertime celebrations this can be a fruitful occasion to ask family and friends about memories of past celebrations. This may unlock anecdotes about family members no longer with us, former places of residence and times gone by. Food can also be a great conversation starter, perhaps someone at the table has old recipes handed down for latkes or Christmas pud which can be shared and recorded. As we reconnect with relatives we don’t see often and those we see every day, celebrations create a moment in which to ask about remembered customs and memories from childhood or grandparents. Something as simple as asking about the handmade dreidel could reveal a lovingly recalled provenance or the vintage Christmas tree decorations which have been unpacked from their boxes to decorate the tree.
What we do with the insights we share and receive is valuable. You could create a family memories journal in which to gather recollections, or perhaps a family Pinterest page with handed down recipes, or an Instagram album of photos of celebrations past and present. Giving new life to family memories using new technologies and social media is also a great way to connect family members young and old over the holiday season.
We wish all our readers and their families very happy celebrations at this auspicious time of year.
Hannah, historytrace, 10/12/2015
Have your discussions about family traditions brought to light new historical family information which we can help you to unravel?
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