November 21, 2021
This week’s Living Arts blog post was written by Yael Raff Peskin, director of KULANU Playgarden.
As we head into the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere–when days are short and nights are long–many cultures and religions have rituals to celebrate the returning of the light. In the Jewish tradition, we are preparing for the eight day celebration of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which begins this year on the night of Sunday, November 28th and continues through Monday, December 6th.
The story of Chanukah describes events surrounding a miracle that happened when a small vessel of oil that was not expected to burn for even one night, ended up burning for eight nights, allowing the Jewish community of Syria to re-dedicate their holy temple that had been destroyed. At KULANU Playgarden, we offer the children an interpretive version of the traditional story to inspire feelings of awe and gratitude for the miracles in our own lives, and to celebrate our strength as a diverse community striving to be inclusive and respectful of everyone and all forms of life.
(A link to the story can be found at the end of this blog post.)
After telling the story at our KULANU Chanukah festival celebration, the children are invited to search for small glass vessels of olive oil that have been hidden all around their play area. The oil they find is then used to light our beautiful silver Chanukah menorah. After the oil has been poured into the menorah’s silver cups and lit, traditional Hebrew blessings are recited, followed by the singing of a song we learned from Anna Rainville years ago at our November Early Childhood Symposium in Fair Oaks—slightly adapted for young children and Chanukah. (To respect the young child’s need for security, and to honor the coming of winter, we replaced the word “uncertain” with “darkest.”)
In these times,
in these darkest times,
I will remain open
to the miracle
that is each moment.
(The music can be found at the end of this blog post.)
To honor the miracle of a small amount of oil lasting eight nights, it is the custom to eat oily foods all week long! The children love having traditional potato latkes (grated potatoes mixed with eggs and matzoh meal, then shaped into small pancakes and fried in lots of oil!). To go with their latkes, the children help make applesauce from apples they pick from our trees.
The children also love making beeswax Chanukah candles, and we alternate every other year—rolling colorful beeswax candles or dipping candles in warm, melted beeswax.
May the coming of Chanukah inspire us to celebrate the many gifts and miracles in our lives, and may we find a renewed sense of purpose as we re-dedicate ourselves to work whole-heartedly — in whatever ways we can — to help co-create a peaceful, just world, filled with boundless love for all who dwell on earth.
Yael Raff Peskin is the mother of three adult children (and a lively 2-1/2 year-old granddaughter!). She is the Director of KULANU Playgarden, a Lifeways Representative Site in Sebastopol, California offering a year-round program for infants to 5 year-olds that brings together nature-based Jewish observance and Zen mindfulness practice into an outdoor Lifeways Waldorf environment.