The Chanukah of my childhood bears little resemblance to how we now celebrate the holiday. Growing up there were three ways that a visitor to our home would recognize that it was Chanukah. Latkes were being fried in the kitchen, a Hanukkiah was prominently placed on the dining room table, and a dreidel or two were lying around the living room. There were no decorations strung in the apartment, and no wrapped presents to open. Before the candles were lit, we said the brachot and sang a song or two. We were then given gelt, money to spend as we wished, (I still remember the white go-go boots that I bought at Alexander’s on Fordham Road) and that was our gift.
Looking back, I don’t feel that the significance of the holiday was in any way diminished, despite the modest way in which it was celebrated. I loved Chanukah and anticipated its arrival each year. I would come home from school and run to choose the candles, carefully selecting colors and creating patterns. Alternating blue and white candles one night, assorted colors on another, and my favorite, an entire Hanukkiah filled with white candles. Chanukah had no religious meaning or overtones in our home. We knew about the miracle associated with the oil but my parents always emphasized the military victory.
When we were raising our children, Chanukah celebrations became much more elaborate, and the religious significance was emphasized rather than the military history. There were always parties to host or attend, lots of gifts and decorations, lots of singing and lots of food. I look forward to seeing the traditions that my children will embrace in their own homes, but for now I am happy to know that all of my children are either hosting Chanukah parties or participating in the celebration. That is the greatest gift.
No matter how we celebrated the holiday one thing always remained the same, the way we make latkes. I make them exactly as my mother did during those early celebrations, sweet and simple, with a little sugar sprinkled on top.
Happy Chanukah to you and your families!
4 large Russet potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks and placed in bowl of cold water.
1 large onion, peeled and cut into chunks
5 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup matzoh meal
salt to taste
Pour enough oil into a large frying pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the pan. In the meantime, place coarsely chopped potatoes and onion in food processor, a few at a time, and process till fine. (we do not use grated potatoes) Pour into bowl and add beaten eggs, salt, and enough matzoh meal to bind mixture. When oil is hot, place large spoonfuls of mixture in pan but do not crowd. Fry about 4-5 latkes at a time. Fry till golden and flip over. Serve straight from pan.