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    Christmas is just around the corner

    Growing up Jewish in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, Christmas for me involved driving around with my Mom and sisters to different neighborhoods and admiring all the Christmas lights. That and hearing from my few non-Jewish friends about all the great gifts they got, and, "Oh yeah, did you get a lot of neat stuff for Hanukkah?"

    Well, I’m afraid Hanukkah is really not the same ballgame as Christmas. And I think I can speak for most Jewish people in screaming, "Shut up about Santa Claus, there’s no Jewish equivalent and I’m not sure Santa even exists except in department stores." I definitely think that whoever made up "a Hanukkah Charlie" definitely wasn’t a Jewish person.

    See, I’ve always heard non-Jewish people asking, "Don’t you have a Hanukkah Charlie or something?" Let me make it perfectly clear here: NO, NO, and NO!

    Yes, we have eight days of Hanukkah with usually a gift an evening for the children. The candles are lit after sunset as part of the celebration of the festival of lights. Over 2000 years ago, when the Jews recaptured the Temple from Syrian invaders, there was only enough oil to keep the holy eternal light, which stood before the altar, lit for one day. Yet the lamp continued to burn for eight days.

    This miracle was symbolically represented by the fact that the original menorah had but one light and today’s menorah has nine arms; eight to represent the eight day miracle and one to light the others. According to education-world.com:

    "From then on, every year at that time, Jews have celebrated with the Festival of Lights. Candles are lit at sundown for eight nights in a row. Today's menorahs have nine branches; the ninth branch is for the shamash, or servant light, which is used to light the other eight candles. People eat potato latkes, exchange gifts, and play dreidel games. And as they gaze at the light of the menorah, they give thanks for the miracle in the Temple long ago."

    By the way, latkes are (and I’m not sure how to explain this), but a lay version is something like the hash brown potatoes you get at McDonalds for breakfast, but a million times better. Dreidels are small wooden tops with Hebrew letters on each side used to play a game. Which, I might add, I had never played until this year. Since Hanukkah came the day after Thanksgiving this year, and I was in Cleveland at Mom’s, we got to play it together. And although Hanukkah may not compete totally with Christmas, it’s a wonderful holiday in its own right, filled with tradition, miracles and joy.

    Merry Christmas to all and may visions of dreidels spin in your head!

    "Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues free lance writing from Caroga Lake here in Fulton County. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site www.kathrynskorner.com"