I’ve always been a fan of Chanukah, I mean - 8 days of doughnuts, what’s not to like? But growing up, there was one aspect that excited me the most.
For some, it’s the thrill of presents, whether 8 small or 1 large. I remember my friends and siblings using the Argos catalogue as some kind of mystical advent calendar, leaving it in obvious places with relevant page corners turned down in hopes of receiving the latest fad.
For others, it’s the joy of candle lighting, the chance to play with fire in a parentally sanctioned way. Show me the child who doesn’t enjoy turning the candle just that bit too long when trying to drip the wax into the holder for added safety...
And those arguments about what exactly constitutes a latke? Just potato? Potato and egg? Onion or not? Or most controversial of all, my grandmother’s matzo meal batter with neither potato or onion, served with sugar and cinnamon after candle lighting? Readers, I am imagining your horrified faces at that suggestion, even my own husband is probably forcing a smile at seeing me in print whilst screaming inside “BUT THOSE ARE BUBBELAS! FOR PESACH!!!” (Trust me, matzo meal latkes rock. Worth every calorie).
But I’m a showbiz luvvie, so above the smell of the grease and the roar of the fryer, it was all about the Chanukah concerts. Whether in the synagogue hall, school or community centre, these events were the highlight of my year. Even Purim couldn’t hold a candle to them. Heading out in your costume on a dark wintry night seemed like the height of glamour. The building would be decorated, the Ladies Guild / PTA / Volunteers would have put out tables of treats, there would be games and activities - dreidel spinning for the kids, roulette for the adults (same same, but different), eating doughnuts without licking your lips (oh no! I’ll have to try again!) And before that, we would get to perform.
Those glittering productions where, as small children, we would proudly hold a silver foil covered cardboard sword and shield that would have been about as much use to a Maccabee as a silver foil covered cardboard sword and shield.
The re-worded pop songs like “I light a candle, two this night, in light our history reappears, and in this show we will discover, that Chanukah is all we want to hear” (sorry, Sir Paul).
The pantos full of puns: “The one on the floor, the one that has-my-knee-on.” “The prince was afraid of the Chanukah dragon because he ate knights.” “There were insects everywhere, but she managed to s-mack-a-bee before it stung her on the Temple.”
Teachers wrote material like that every year, and didn’t feel the least bit gelty about it.
They brought everyone together, every generation, to celebrate our survival. Not just at the hands of the ancient Syrian-Greeks - the teachers had survived the migraine generating rehearsal period. The parents had survived our pre-show emotional rollercoaster driven horrific behaviour. The relief was palpable, on all counts. And as little ones we sang “1, 2, 3, 4”. As older kids we sang “Ocho kandelikas”. As teens we sang Adam Sandler’s slightly edgier ode to the festival. As a community and a family we all sang Maoz Tzur. And we still get to do that now, every year, for eight nights.
Being asked to host Chanukah in the Square last year was an incredible honour, and being asked back again even more so. Sharing one of my favourite times of year with thousands of members of my extended family, whatever their Jewish connection, is incredibly special. And this year it has everything I loved as a child, games, activities, food and music. They’ll need to prise that foil-covered cardboard sword and shield out of my hand at the end. I can’t wait.
Rachel Creeger, Comedian
Chanukah in the Square 2019 is on 22nd December from 2.30-4.30 in Trafalgar Square