Lights of Hanukkah: A Blending of Traditions

by Marjorie Freeman

My husband attended a Southern Baptist Church with his grandmother as a small child, and then a Methodist Church with his parents and with his first wife. We married, and the wise Reform rabbi who married us, Rabbi Robert Rothman of the Community Synagogue in Rye, NY, suggested that my new husband bring a brown-bag lunch and join him once a week to learn about my Jewish background so he would be able to understand me better.

After a year or more, my husband felt that Judaism made more sense than the Christianity he grew up with, and converted. But we always made the trip to my husband’s parents’ home to celebrate Christmas with them, and celebrated Chanukah at home, so our son celebrated both holidays as a young child. He and my husband both loved Christmas lights. In fact, driving around the neighborhood looking at the Christmas lights became a reward for my son when he behaved well at Friday night services in the winter.

Finally, my husband figured out what to do to give my son the joy of Christmas lights, even though we didn’t celebrate Christmas. He made a huge menorah out of two sheets of plywood. The menorah-shaped base was eight feet wide and four feet tall, painted yellow.  Each of the nine candles was four feet tall, painted red, green, white, yellow, or blue, lined all around the edges with a string of Christmas lights of the same color and topped with a flame-shaped, flickering, orange light bulb. An outlet strip was attached to the back of the menorah, which was plugged through an outdoor extension cord into an outlet on the side of our garage. The menorah was hung by wire between two trees, so it faced the street, but it could also be seen from my son’s bedroom window. Each night of Hanukkah, we plugged in the proper number of “candles”, said the prayers, and went inside to light the smaller menorahs.  After the eighth night of Hanukkah, the whole menorah stayed lit each night for the rest of the holiday season. My husband talked about making a huge, lit-up Judah Maccabee to hang from another tree, but he never got around to doing that!

As it turned out, my son’s bar mitzvah portion contained God’s instructions for making the original menorah, which delighted my son. My husband plugged in seven candles, and hung the menorah he had built in our yard for the party afterward. No one else’s bar mitzvah party decorations tied in with their Torah portions as well as my son’s did!

Marjorie Freeman is a member of Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, CT.