While there are many different interpretations of the Hanukkah story, the classic traditions often remain the same. Celebrations revolve around lighting the menorah, known in Hebrew as the hanukiah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown. Those who are celebrating typically recite blessings during this ritual and display the menorah in a window as a reminder to others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.
In celebration, here are 8 poems to honor the festive and holy nights of Hanukkah, varying from the deeply religious to the comical to highlighting the miracle of hope.
In The Jewish Synagogue At Newport by Emma Lazarus
Here, where the noises of the busy town,
The ocean’s plunge and roar can enter not,
We stand and gaze around with tearful awe,
And muse upon the consecrated spot.
No signs of life are here: the very prayers
Inscribed around are in a language dead;
The light of the “perpetual lamp” is spent
That an undying radiance was to shed.
What prayers were in this temple offered up,
Wrung from sad hearts that knew no joy on earth,
By these lone exiles of a thousand years,
From the fair sunrise land that gave them birth!
The Coming Of Light by Mark Strand
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.
Blessings for Chanukah by Jessie E. Sampter
Blessed art thou, O God our Lord,
Who made us holy with his word,
And told us on this feast of light
To light one candle more each night.
(Because when foes about us pressed
To crush us all with death or shame,
The Lord his priests with courage blest
To strike and give his people rest
And in the House that he loved best
Relight our everlasting flame.)
Blest art Thou, the whole world’s King,
Who did so wonderful a thing
For our own fathers true and bold
At this same time in days of old!
Season Of Skinny Candles by Marge Piercy
A row of tall skinny candles burns
quickly into the night
air, the shames raised
over the rest for its hard work.
Darkness rushes in
after the sun sinks
like a bright plug pulled.
Our eyes drown in night
thick as ink pudding.
When even the moon
starves to a sliver
the little candles poke
holes in the blackness.
A time to eat fat
and oil, a time to gamble
for pennies and gambol
Letter Spoken in Wind by Rachel Galvin
Today we walked the inlet Nybøl Nor
remembering how to tread on frozen snow.
Ate cold sloeberries
that tasted of wind—a white pucker—
spat their sour pits in snow. Along
the horizon, a line of windmills dissolved
into a white field. Your voice
on the phone, a gesund auf dein keppele
you blessed my head. Six months now
since I’ve seen you. There are
traces of you here, your curls still dark
and long, your woven dove,
the room you stayed in: send your syllables,
I am swimming below the tidemark.
Words shed overcoats, come
to me undressed, slender-limbed, they have no
letters yet. It is the festival
of lights, I have no
candles. I light one for each night,
pray on a row
of nine lighthouses.
Honorary Jew by John Repp
The first year, I grated potatoes, chopped onions
& watched. The second year, I fed all but the eggs
into the machine & said I’ll do the latkes & did,
my pile of crisp delights borne to the feast by the wife
who baffled me, our books closed, banter hushed,
money useless in the apartment—house, my in-laws called it,
new-wave thump at one end, ganja reek at the other—
in which she’d knelt to tell the no one who listened
no more no no more no a three-year-old mouthing
the essential prayer. The uncle made rich by a song
stacked three & dug in, talking critics & Koch—
everyone crunching now, slathering applesauce, slurping tea—
talking Rabin & Mehitabel, radio & Durrell,
how a song is a poem or it isn’t a song
& vice-versa. Done, he pointed a greasy finger
at me, said You can’t be a goy. You—I say it
for all to hear—are an honorary Jew!
which, impossible dream, my latkes lived up to
for five more years. Then the wailing.
Then the dust.
Chanukah Lights Tonight by Steven Schneider
Our annual prairie Chanukah party—
latkes, kugel, cherry blintzes.
Friends arrive from nearby towns
and dance the twist to “Chanukah Lights Tonight,”
spin like a dreidel to a klezmer hit.
The candles flicker in the window.
Outside, ponderosa pines are tied in red bows.
If you squint,
the neighbors’ Christmas lights
look like the Omaha skyline.
The smell of oil is in the air.
We drift off to childhood
where we spent our gelt
on baseball cards and matinees,
cream sodas and potato knishes.
No delis in our neighborhood,
only the wind howling over the crushed corn stalks.
Inside, we try to sweep the darkness out,
waiting for the Messiah to knock,
wanting to know if he can join the party.
Legendary Lights by Alter Abelson
O, the legendary light,
Gleaming goldenly in night
Like the stars above,
Beautiful, like lights in dream,
Eight, the taper-flames that stream
All one glory and one love.
In our Temple, magical—
Memories, now tragical—
Holy hero-hearts aflame
With a glory more than fame;
There where a shrine is every sod,
Every grave, God’s golden ore,
With a paean whose rhyme to God,
Lit these lamps of yore.
Lights, you are a living dream,
Faith and bravery you beam,
Youth and dawn and May.
Would your beam were more than dream,
Would the light and love you stream,
Stirred us, spurred us, aye!
Fabled memories of flame,
Till the beast in man we tame,
Tyrants bow to truth, amain,
Brands and bullets yield to brain,
Guns to God, and shells to soul,
Hounds to heart resign the role,
Pillared lights of liberty,
In your fairy flames, we’ll see
Faith’s and freedom’s Phoenix-might,
The Omnipotence of Right.