Near the heavy wooden door, stuck to the door jamb is a ceramic container with a prayer written on a rolled piece of parchment. The container is slightly longer than a pack of gum, and mounted at a slight angle. As I pass through the door, I kiss two fingers and then press them against the cool ceramic beacon.
The door opens. The smell of fried potatoes pours through my nostrils. Popping oil crackles in a pan as my wife smiles and greets me with a hug. Small bowls of apple sauce and sour cream line the counter, flecked with raw, grated potato. Under my left arm is a box of jelly-filled donuts. Some of the powdered sugar still sticks to my fingers, an indictment of my trip to the bakery.
The sun is almost down. Our daughter runs in from her room. From a small cardboard box resting on the worn Maple dining table, she removes two colored candles. She pinches them with careful nimble fingers, slipping one into a spot on the far-right side of the silver candle holder. The other is set in the center, slightly above the other.
"It's ready, Mom!" she yells, just as my wife walks in with the play of potato pancakes. The other food follows. Warmed by the heat of the radiators, the room is bathed in glowing orange and pink as the evening sky flickers its last and the sun dips below the mountains
I light the middle candle and hand it to our daughter. My wife leads us in the prayer as my daughter's small arm reaches up to light the first candle. As it flicks to life, we finish the last few words, which, despite being in a language as old the pick-up line Adam gave to Eve, always ends in "Amen." The center candle is returned, and we place the candles and their holder in the window next to pictures of my father, mother-in-law and sisters.
This is the first night. Our daughter is anxious to open her first gift. Furiously ripping off carefully knotted ribbons and intricate wrapping paper leads to an expression of joy unlike any I've ever seen as a father. My wife and I kiss again, and then kiss our daughter, who is now lost in the splendor of her new gift. Soon after, we dive into the meal, glimpsing every so often at the candles. They remind us of the miracle. They remind us that these days are about dedication. They remind us of sacrifice. They remind us of triumph in the face of adversity and faith when none was to be had. This first night is the first blessing.
This scene may be familiar to you in another setting, and its elements are probably no different: family, good food, friends and gifts. For me, this scene plays out when the sun goes down this Wednesday night and plays out for the eight nights that follow.
Hanukkah dawns. Happy holidays.