Last year around this time, I had a big time Hanukkah hangover.
I woke up one morning bleary-eyed and reeking of oil, having hit the bottle a bit too hard the night before. Like the latkes I served up at dinner, I was fried. I was positively crispy. The candles may have been burning bright, but I was burning out.
As Hanukkah approaches, I fill up with the giddy anticipation of steadfast traditions and inspiring narratives. There is just so much potential for meaning this time of year, and yet, like so many others, I am prone to the disequilibrium of the season. It’s hard to balance materialism with mystery and magic. One evening, for instance, after competing with the masses for goodies to gift, I had to take deep, consolatory breaths and remind myself that there are miracles beyond choice parking spots at the mall. On another, I freaked out every five minutes as I tried to wrap presents, peel potatoes, google recipes for sufganiyot, locate the hanukiah, remember the blessings, stop eating chocolate coins, and get “Light One Candle” out of my head.
Hanukkah has become like an interminable and ill-fated game of dreidel — spin, shin, never win. I need to recover these eight days before they’ve taken me for all I’ve got, and that means rededicating my efforts to celebrate what the holiday is really about: light. I am not referring to the flickering flames of the Hanukkah menorah, but to the incandescence of kindness. In the shadows cast by dark and scary times, we can illumine the world with benevolence and the vibrations of good intention.
This can be a special time, and we can harness the supernatural powers of light by turning our attention to duties of the heart. We have the opportunity to bring mindfulness and purpose to our practice, offering up blessings for humanity. We can pray for something outside of our own singular reality.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles remind us that there will always be people whose needs far exceed our own. We can pray for perspective.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles provide us with strength to care for the sick and the wounded. We can pray for the healing of affliction.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles shine upon a path of peace. We can pray for safety and reconciliation.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles empower us to choose that which is righteous. We can pray for principles. We can pray for integrity.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles glow atop tables set for the multitude. We can pray for the vanquishment of poverty and hunger.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles reflect in our children’s eyes. We can pray for their promise and potential.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles animate those who have lost hope. We can pray they find their faith.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles resonate with song. We can pray to have a voice. We can pray for the courage to speak up when others cannot speak for themselves.
We can ask that the light of the Hanukkah candles ignite our indifference and set flame to our ignorance. We can pray for knowledge. We can pray inspiration.
Around this time last year, I woke up smelling like latkes and feeling as stiff as the wax stuck to my countertops. So what? Each night’s a new night, each tomorrow a new day. There are new gifts to give and different stories to tell, and there are a motley crew of choices to make, and I’m not just talking applesauce and sour cream. I’m talking about compassion or dispassion. I’m talking about engagement or dissociation. I am talking about luminosity or murkiness. I have time to garner my strength. I have eight nights to look forward to, not to mention about nine thousand boxes of candles. This little light of mine? I’m gonna let it shine. I think we all can do the same.