This Little Light of Mine by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By Traditions

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Chanukah has always been my favorite holiday. Not because of the gifts — my parents actually gave us our gifts on Dec. 25th when the rest of our friends were getting theirs — but because I loved lighting the candles, singing the traditional songs, playing dreidel, and eating Chanukah gelt (chocolate circles wrapped in gold foil to look like coins). We had a turquoise menorah shaped like an oil lamp that my parents had brought back from Israel, which I loved. However, my mother would always have us blow out the candles in the menorah after only a few minutes, rather than letting them burn down, so that we could continue to use the same ones every night. A box of Chanukah candles contains 44 candles, because that is how many are needed for eight nights, including a shammas, or helper candle, for each night (2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9). With my mother’s frugal system, we would only use nine candles for the entire holiday, and thus a box would be just one candle short of lasting our family for a full five years. I didn’t know until after I left home that this was not the way other people did it.

With my own children, one of our favorite Chanukah traditions is to sit and watch the candles burn all the way down each night, and make predictions about which one we think will be the last to go out. We have had many different menorahs over the years, including some that the kids made in religious school, and some years we would use several at once, resulting in lots of candles to watch. About ten years ago I found the beautiful menorah pictured here, called Synagogues of Europe. It has tiny reproductions of nine synagogues, and the city where each is (or was) located is identified on the back. So now when we are betting on which one will win, we can say Florence or Prague instead of just identifying them by number.

I find the flames of the candles to be soothing, and even mesmerizing, especially on the last night when all nine are lit. It is a nice time to sit and reflect, or just sit and stare and not think at all.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Patricia says:

    I love your mother’s attitude! But I thought the whole point of the candle countdown was to burn them down every night, recapitulating the long-lasting oil lamp? Also, this menorah is lovely and unique, I’ve never seen one like it.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love your tradition of lighting many menorahs and watching the flames. I agree, they are mesmerizing. Also like that you have multiple menorahs. The one pictured is particularly lovely. For many years I went to my mother’s nursing home and helped them celebrate (I was their token Jew). I brought along my children’s books, read a story, sang songs, explained about Chanukah, and helped the staff serve latkes with applesauce or sour cream. I would search for better ways to explain the holiday and finally came up with a good essay from a rabbi, which I condensed and used the last few years. I even went back for several years after my mother died, but the activities director retired last year, and so did I. 2014 was the last time I was involved and now I miss it. Time marches on.

  3. A totally cool description of a tradition! Imagine a little girl sitting there, figuring how many candles would be left over after doing her mom’s interpretation of the undying light. Succinct and graceful writing with a slightly obsessive attention to detail, specifically arithmetic. Fun and funny, and I loved that menorah!

    • Suzy says:

      Well I just thought that if there were any non-Jewish readers, they might need help figuring out why 44 candles would be the correct amount for one year. And yes, I do love arithmetic!

  4. John Zussman says:

    Lovely memories and traditions. When we were kids, didn’t everyone have the classic candelabra menorah? I love the profusion of unusual, storytelling menorahs like the one you pictured.

    • Suzy says:

      You’re right, John, everyone did have the classic candelabra menorah when we were kids. But then my parents took a trip to Israel and brought back one that was shaped like Aladdin’s lamp, with the shammas at one end. I looked for a picture of that type of menorah online and couldn’t find one, so I guess they are not common.

  5. Just caught up with this as a missed story Suzy.

    Watching the Hanukkah candles burn down and seeing which one lasts the longest is what we’ve always done. I’m glad you rejected your mother’s ways.

    And yes I also find watching them soothing and mesmerizing!

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