Musings on Menorahs


Second Night/Third Morning of Hanukkah

On the third day of Hanukkah, my housemate gave to me… a Menorah that she got for free!

Okay, that was a terrible attempt to tweak the lyrics of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to fit this situation. I wasn’t expecting to be the recipient of any Hanukkah gifts, but Claire came back this morning with a gift: my very own menorah! This is a first for me, and it comes with a box of Hanukkah candles! On this, the third morning of Hanukkah, I feel like a kid on Christmas. She got it courtesy of the Lubavitch Youth Organization.

Last night, Katie and I lit the menorahs on the mantle. There are now a total of four menorahs on our mantle courtesy of my housemates, who have become reluctant participants (if not hostages) of this “Hello Hanukkah” project. One immediately became my favorite. It’s a decorative Noah’s Ark, featuring eight animals: a walrus, a bear, a lamb, a penguin, an elephant, a dog, a cow and a friendly-looking tiger. I’ve always been a sucker for the story of Noah and his ark of rescued misfits. Since adopting a rescued dog, I’ve learned a bit about the power of animals to unite people of all walks of life. It’s a simple truth: people love their animals.

The menorah of God’s furry and feathery bunch now holds three blue candles — one in the tiger, one in the elephant. There is a giraffe in the middle of the menorah, which holds the Shamash (the ninth candle is the “attendant” or “helper”). The giraffe was the obvious choice for the Shamash, as its neck stands taller than the other animals. A requirement for the Shamash is that it should be at a distinctly taller height than the other candleholders on the menorah. (Look for a picture of this in the coming days) It is used to light the other candles. states, “The Shamash’s primary function has been served once the candles have been lit; we don’t extinguish the Shamash. Instead, we set it in its place adjacent to the other lights, ready to ‘serve’ in case a candle blows out. Another reason why the Shamash is left lit is because it is forbidden to use the Chanukah lights for any practical reason. This way, if a candle is needed, the Shamash is available for use, preserving the sanctity of the mitzvah lights.”

I really like saying the word “Shamash.” As in, “Shamash!” Katie rolls her eyes.

Many of the candles are blue and white, though not all. I think this is symbolic of the colors of the Israeli flag, but wonder if the colors of the candles expanded in modern times for spiritual or secular reasons. When I googled “Traditional Colors for Hanukkah Candles,” what came up were links to all the places one could purchase candles. This reminds me that it’s not just Christians who have to deal with the commercialization of religious holidays. Everything in our current culture seems to come with an opportunity to shop. I wouldn’t be surprised if Yankee Candle started selling scented Hanukkah candles. I’m sure they will find a way to honor kosher laws and still manufacture a Hanukkah candle that smells like cinnamon buns. It will likely sell alongside the “Ein Gev Beach Walk” large jar.

The fact that there is a “Christmas on the Beach” candle irks me. Religion aside, it takes about two minutes on Google to learn that Christ was born among animals in a stable in Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, in winter, and not on a beach, but then again, “Barn Smell” is probably not going to rake in the big bucks.

I’m grateful to the man who gave Claire both my new Menorah and a box of candles for free. Thank you, and G-d bless, kind stranger.

If anyone knows more about the traditional colors and their significance for Hanukkah candles, please do comment.

In keeping with receiving (not purchased at a mall) gifts on this third day of Hanukkah, this post comes with a gift too: a recipe for potato latkes! Last night, I was supposed to make these lovely latkes for Katie for dinner and then report to you, dear reader, on the outcome. Did I? No. Instead, I took her to Kai’s Kitchen for the other great Hanukkah cuisine: Chinese food. I imagine that you would prefer to have the recipe for potato latkes rather than shrimp and broccoli, so enjoy.

Katie did make a homemade dessert last night. Here is the transcript of our conversation when she handed me a small bowl of Lychee Jell-O:

Me: “Is this for Hanukkah?”

Katie: “No, it’s from Pakistan.”

Me: “Oh. Okay.”

Katie: “But it is kosher.”

Me: “Okay, good. Do you want to watch an old episode of Rhoda, instead of doing your Physics homework tonight?”

Katie: “Sure.”

Me: “Okay, good.”

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