The Lights of the Holiday Season

From Christmas lights to menorah candles, the holiday season is vibrant and full of festivity.


Zoe Goldman and Kendall Wachowiak

I’m dreaming of a white- holiday season. Just like the song by Irving Berlin, this time of year is filled with lots of magic, love, and light. Two of the most well known holidays during this time of year are Christmas and Hanukkah. Both are celebrated with light, either from the LEDs carefully attached to a house, or the light from the gentle flames glowing on top of a menorah. These two holidays are very different but convey a similar atmosphere for people across the world.


The many traditions and happy sensations that come from Hanukkah all started around 160 BCE during the Maccabean Revolt when Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors. A tradition from the historical event that is still widely practiced today is the lighting of a menorah. During the war, the Maccabees could only find a small jug of oil, enough to light the menorah for one night. The miracle of the holiday is the fact that the small amount of oil lasted for eight nights, rather than one. Ever since this event, Hanukkah has been known for Jews as the “Festival of Lights.”

A menorah with candles lit to symbolize the burning of the oil for eight nights.

Just like all other Jewish holidays, there is no specific date for Hanukkah to land on annually on the Gregorian calendar. However, Hanukkah falls on the same date every year on the Hebrew calendar which is on the 25th of Kislev, the third month of the year. 

Along with the menorah, another popular Hanukkah tradition is playing dreidel with your family and friends. Dreidel is a fun game, often with money or chocolate coins called “gelt” used as a prize for winning. This game features a spinning top, which has a Hebrew letter written on all four sides. The letters gimel, nun, shin, and hey all represent a different action in the game. That might be taking all the money/gelt from the middle for oneself, not being able to take any of it, taking half, or returning one piece to the middle. The letters shown on a dreidel represent more than just directions for the game. The letters are, in reality, an acronym for the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,” which translates to “A Great Miracle Happened There,” referring to the miracle of the oil for the menorah lasting eight nights, rather than one. 

When thinking about Hanukkah traditions that make the holiday what it is, food is one big thing that comes to mind. One of the most popular foods to cook and feast on during these eight nights is “latkes” or potato pancakes. This fried “pancake” consisting of potato, eggs, onions, and other tasty ingredients is commonly eaten during the holiday. Latkes date back as a celebratory food for Hanukkah in the 14th century when they were made of cheese. Now, they are often dipped in oil to celebrate the miracle of the oil.

Despite all of these old traditions from thousands of years ago, Hanukkah has evolved with new traditions such as gift-giving. Giving gifts to loved ones and friends is not a tradition of Hanukkah’s origin, yet it has become one of the highlights of the holiday in modern culture. 


The feeling of waking up early in the morning and rushing down the stairs to see presents piled under the Christmas tree is an out of body experience. Seeing the wrapping paper tossed across the floor and the faces of the people opening the gift you got, especially for them, is unforgettable. Christmas is a time of pure joy for most who celebrate it and often is described as “the best day of the year!”

This holiday began in Rome over 1500 years ago and, to this day, is still a celebration for many. When the darkness and the cold were consuming the world around them, Europeans celebrated the miracle of light and birth, even before Jesus. Naturally, people have combined Christmas with the spirit of giving and kindness, it’s hard to say where this started with the holiday. Although nobody can be sure if December 25th was the day that Jesus was born, it did not matter as the holiday spread quickly throughout the eastern hemisphere. Christmas is now celebrated around the world and is a symbol of giving and the miracle of life.

A beautifully decorated Christmas tree.

Many traditions surround the holiday: decorating a tree, kids trying to stay awake to get a glimpse of Santa Claus, or driving around in your jammies looking at Christmas lights. Families across the world celebrate this joyous day differently, making it mean something different to every person. 

Some people participate in something known as “Secret Santa,” a game where you draw someone’s name and try to find the perfect gift for them. The challenging part is you cannot ask the person what they want, as you are trying to keep your identity a secret. Once all the gifts have been wrapped, everybody opens their present up to see what they got. Some faces light up as they see the item; others throw on a fake smile to try to hide their disappointment.

One of the greatest contributions to the “vibe” of this holiday is the music. Every year, more and more artists record their take on Christmas classics. Some songs symbolize the kindness of the holiday, while others are simply about decorating. Despite all the mixed emotions of whether they are annoying or amazing, there is no denying that these songs make the season.

Food is another aspect of the holiday that is different for everyone who celebrates. Some gather with their family and friends to enjoy a huge home-cooked feast with their entire extended family, others get takeout from the nearest restaurant. Each person has their own idea of Christmas dinner, which is one of the things that make this holiday so special.

The most well known Christmas tradition is hanging up lights. Most families, no matter how deep they are into Christmas, will hang up lights or decorations in their yard. Every December, when you are driving around, the streets are lit up by the LEDs of Christmas. Some houses are over the top, while others are simply a blow-up snowman. Whatever each family decides to do to light up their house, it is a treasured tradition representing the Christmas spirit.

No matter how people celebrate Christmas, with unique traditions or just the basics, with a grand table of food or the mac and cheese from the diner in town, there is no denying the magic this holiday brings.


These two holidays are both celebrated with lots of joy and light, figuratively and literally. The light from the tiny bulbs decorating a house in a bright cacophony of colors and the orange-yellow glow of the flames burning on the wick of the candles carefully placed on the menorah symbolize these holidays and the ambiance that comes with them.