Ah, menorahs. Those beautiful, quirky, often ornate excuses for ceremonial pyromania. Traditionally, in a regular menorah, there are only six branches (plus the shamash, the middle one that holds the flame from which the rest are lit), but a Hanuka menorah gets eight branches for each day of the holiday. Fun fact: legend says that the holiday is eight days long because that’s miraculously how long the one-day stock of oil burned after the Syrians broke the temple of the Hebrews back in olden times. History, however, says that the Maccabees (the Jewish rebels) spent the holiday of Sukkot, an eight day holiday that comes a few months before Hanuka, up in the mountains because of what all was going down in Jerusalem, and didn’t get to celebrate it until they took back the temple. So you tell me why it’s eight days?
Really, it doesn’t matter. The point is that for eight nights, we get to set fire to things. Well, one thing. And keep it away from the curtains. Most people light one candle the first night, two the second, and so on. Some people, though, light all eight on the first night, and then one less each night after that. I know, crazy, right?! Candle habits, I tell you! The more common tradition comes from Hillel, a very respected scholar from the Babylonian era, and the less common one from his rival and also respected scholar, Shammai. Hillel’s idea was that with each night, you bring more light into the world, thereby making things more and more groovy and hopeful and fab. Shammai’s idea was the opposite, because he liked to ruin everything.* Legend is, he used to go to Hillel’s Hanuka parties and take gelt from the kids and burn the dreidels with the menorah for kicks (that’s not true, I just made that up, but I’ll be you he at least thought about it).
The fun thing about menorahs is that all you really need is eight flammable things (ok fine, candles) and a shamash that stands apart from them. This allows for much creativity! Pretty much anything can be a menorah. My favorite one is this small VW bus (seen above) with candle holders on top that I saw in a museum gift shop once, because deep down inside I’m a dirty hippie who wants to live at Woodstock. Greenprophet has some cool ideas for sustainable menorahs, and my friend Uri wrote a cool guide to DIY sustainable menorahs on Networx.
If you have kids, or still ARE one (age not relevant), making your own at home is a really fun way to get ready for the holiday. It’s kind of cool when everyone in the family gets to light their own menorah. I went to a Hanuka party last year where some people brought a menorah from home, and there were at least half a dozen standing on the table, all lit, and it was really pretty! There are still two weeks left… just enough time to turn your home into a menorah factory!
*The reason I’m such a smarty pants full of factoids is because I took a Judaism crash course at the Portland branch of Melton last year. It was really fun and non-denominational and I highly recommend it because seminar classes are the besssstttttt.