Celebrating Hanukkah, Modern Style

Posted on December 6, 2010 by

A blog post by Outreach Coordinator Rachael Binning.

Happy Hanukkah! This year I’m celebrating Hanukkah away from my family which means that I’ve had to be a bit more creative about how I celebrate this year. I can’t rely on feeling festive though the boxes of decorations my family has collected over the years or by eating my mom’s homemade applesauce (with Red Hots to make it pink and spicy), or by being with my family as each of us lights our own special menorah. Instead, I’ve resorted to some more non-traditional and modern takes on celebrating the holiday on my own. So instead of eating my dad’s homemade latkes and scheming with my sister over what night we should open which gift, I’ve been doing this:

Listening to Surprisingly Modern (and good!) Hanukkah Songs:

Songs in the Key of Hanukkah by Erran Barron Cohen

I’ve actually been listening to “Songs in the Key of Hanukkah” by Erran Baron Cohen for a few years now, but when I rediscovered it last night I was so glad I did. Erran Baron Cohen, the brother Sacha Baron Cohen (think Borat), released a Hanukkah album a few years ago which I love. The songs on the album, which are performed by a diverse group of musicians, are ones that I would not mind listening to throughout the year. In an NPR interview Cohen said that he created this album because he was unsatisfied with the Hanukkah songs he group up listening to. The album is a compilation of modern takes on traditional songs and new music. One of my favorite songs is “A la Luz de la Vela” (In the Light of the Candles) a beautiful song that is sung in Ladino (Spanish and Hebrew) by Yasmin Levy. The album probably isn’t for everyone (I can see some people being turned off by the modern takes on traditional holiday favorites), but it’s worth at least checking out listening to Erran Baron Cohen’s interview and the few songs posted on NPR’s site.

Miracle by Matisyahu

Matisyahu has a new Hanukkah song called “Miracle,” which is so catchy that I think it should be played on the radio right now! Matisyahu was recently interviewed on NRP about the new song, being a Chasidic reggae singer, and Hanukkah. Visit Matisyahu’s website to watch the very entertaining music video for the song.

Hosting a Holiday Party With My Roommates:

Chrismakah Tree

I live with two roommates (who I love!) who are not Jewish. However, we all appreciate getting into the holiday spirit and enjoy spending times with friends and family around this time of year. This year we are hosting a holiday decorating party, which I’m very excited about because we will be making Christmas and Hanukkah decorations while frying latkes and drinking mulled wine. Does it get any better than that? I also love the idea of this holiday party because we get to share our different traditions and cultures with each other. I’ve never lived in a house with a Christmas tree and this year I will be able to partake in that tradition. My roommates will get to assist me (or knowing my cooking skills, take the lead) in attempting to fry up some latkes.

I asked some of my friends who now live on their own what they do for Hanukkah and one of them said that she just came back from a Hanukkah party where they had a gift exchange. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s a good one for young adults on a tight budget. I love giving and receiving gifts, but the cost quickly adds up. My roommates and I are also thinking of adding a charity component to our party. Our ideas included donating to a local charity or having each guest bring canned goods. I really love this idea and I think it’s a great way to get in the holiday spirit.

Listening to Stories:

My sister’s fireproof menorah.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m usually not a great muti-tasker (talking on the phone while typing is not my forte). I am however great at listening to stories (such as NPR or This American Life) while cleaning my room, walking the dog, or participating in other relatively mindless activities. Last night rather than eating latkes and spinning dreidles I ended up listening to NPR’s yearly program called Hanukkah Lights while cleaning my room and eating Thai food. This is the 20th Anniversary of the program and that each year presents an hour of commissioned stories focused on Hanukkah. Based on the other links I’ve posted in this blog post I’m sure you’ve noticed I am an avid NPR listener, but I think this program is especially great. Hanukkah Lights puts Judaism’s strong oral tradition in a modern context while remaining entertaining and educating the public about some of the many themes of Hanukkah. Jews love to tell stories, and indeed most of our holidays are based around stories, so it’s important to see that the storytelling tradition (both fiction and non-fiction) keeps up in the modern age.

I’m not saying that I don’t miss celebrating a traditional Hanukkah with my family because I do, but I’m glad that there are alternative ways for me to participate in the themes and tradition of the holiday this year. Finally, I’ll leave you with a picture of my family celebrating Hanukkah about 20 years ago (oy!). My sister Sarah is wearing a tiara (she’s always thought that she was a princess) and I have the red bow in my hair. Those days, including my mom’s long red nails, are long gone.

The Binning Family Celebrates Hanukkah!

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