Light the Way

Guest writer: Gina Ginsburg


Thanksgiving is a lovely time of year. Food, family, and football, what’s not to like? (Actually, I don’t like football, but the alliteration worked well in that sentence.) But once the sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie have been put away, either gastronomically or via food storage containers, I know it’s time to get ready for Hanukkah.

During Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, Jews light candles for eight nights to celebrate the miracle of a one-day supply of oil lasting for eight nights (or so tradition says) after the Maccabean Revolt in the second century B.C. It’s not really a major holiday, but it grew in popularity because of its proximity to Christmas.

This creates some angst. Unlike most holidays that arrive reliably on the same date every year, Hanukkah changes annually since it’s determined by the Hebrew calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the Hebrew calendar is based on both the sun and the moon. This requires an annual date check. How soon do I need to start shopping? One year it came the day after Thanksgiving and that was difficult; there was barely enough time to put away the leftovers.  Sometimes it overlaps with Christmas, which creates the feeling of a more unified holiday season. Everyone is out madly prepping their homes and fulfilling their shopping lists.

So not only do we have a fluctuation in dates, but there’s a conflict with the spelling of this holiday. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are 24 ways to spell it! The most common versions are Hanukkah (more current) and Chanukah (more traditional and seemingly harder to pronounce.) If you decide to buy a greeting card, Hallmark prefers the former. Do you need to commit to just one spelling? It can be an important decision to make.

As a child, my family always observed the eight-night holiday. Notice I didn’t say celebrated because my parents didn’t put up any decorations or attempt to do anything special. My mother took out the eight-branched candleholder, called a hanukkiah or menorah, and set out a small box of color candles. That was it. No special lights, interesting knickknacks, or colorful table settings to make our home more festive. I envied my friend’s larger-than-life Christmas trees with flashy ornaments and garlands. Bright gift-wrapped packages covered the base of the trees. I even liked the delicate silver tinsel, especially when my neighbor showed me how to blow on it and make sounds. The adornments continued outside with more lights, plastic Santa, and reindeer poised on rooftops. The fake snow was a bit of a stretch for us Floridians, but we could hope for temperatures below 75 degrees.

Their homes were decorated with such aplomb that my house felt pretty drab inside. Nonetheless, I looked forward to Hanukkah every year because we did receive a few gifts. Usually the biggest gift was given on the last night. But my parents deemed it unnecessary for my two older sisters and me to receive a gift every night. Wasn’t it more important to focus on the meaning of the holiday? Yes, if you’re an adult and not an eight-year-old. My mother would bring out a gift for us wrapped in this dull gray and white wrapping paper which she used for every special occasion. Not even a sprinkle of blue anywhere.

Among my childhood Hanukkah memories was the night my sisters opened their gifts first and I saw happy faces and heard excited shrieks. They each got a highly prized Beatles album! Jackpot! I excitedly opened my gift, hoping for a game or something fun; and instead, to my dismay, I received a purse. What does an eight-year-old need with a purse?

As a result of this traumatic event, I was determined to make Hanukkah more pleasurable for my own family. One of the nights we would make the traditional latkes, or potato pancakes fried in oil, for dinner.  I had two large storage bins full of Hanukkah items: streamers, holiday wrapping paper, dreidels (special spinning tops), games, crafts that the kids had made, stuffed animals, and decorative lights. We enjoyed taking everything out to decorate. But one thing really signified it was Hanukkah, and that was the appearance of “Boingy Man.” Not to be confused with Boogey Man, Boingy Man was a silly springy toy that we hung in a strategic spot. I’m not sure who liked Boingy Man more, our kids or myself, but I suspect it was me. He was funny and quirky and I didn’t have anything like that growing up. Instead of hiding the gifts as my mother did, I put the wrapped gifts where they could be seen and anticipated.

One year something happened that we hadn’t anticipated. We had multiple candleholders blazing since it was eighth last night. We had finished dinner, and the kids were in their beds reading when the smoke detector screeched loudly. What we thought were many carefully placed lit candles instead turned into a mini-inferno on our wood table. It took several moments for the sound of the smoke detector to register in my brain, but long enough for the table to start on fire and badly charr the wall. My only thought was to grab both children and head out the front door! Thankfully Keith (spouse to the rescue) got the smoke and fire under control! For a while, that wall was a real eyesore but eventually it was repaired and painted over. I wouldn’t say that night was much of a ‘festival’ of lights.

The years have passed since that memorable Hanukkah. Christmas decorations are now respected but not envied especially since I hear grumbles about how much work they entail. After moving and downsizing from a larger home I now have a more carefully curated collection in my Hanukkah bin. With children living on their own and starting their own traditions, there is less incentive to go all out. Instead, we stick to the basics by just lighting candles and making latkes. But I still find a place for Boingy Man to come out and mark the holiday with us.


Gina is a member of the Asheville Women Writers Cooperative. She and her husband live in south Asheville, where the candles are closely tended and Boingy Man presides over the festivities.


  1. Nice to hear from Gina via her Chanukah memories

  2. The Boingy Man is awesome! Even better than The Elf on the Shelf!

  3. I love Boingy Man! How nice that you made fun childhood memories for your kids ????

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