Hanukkah

This Hanukkah, read these Hanukkah poems to help celebrate.
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10 Hanukkah Poems To Celebrate The Festival Of Lights

Read one each night, with a couple of extra to spare.

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I'm not Jewish, but I've always been incredibly fond of Hanukkah and have wished I could join in on a friend's traditions more times than I can count. I've always imagined that lighting the menorah each night would be accompanied by some kind of reading (and blessings are typically said out loud, shared History.com) — kind of like how I always read the story of Jesus's birth to my own daughter on Christmas Eve. So what would be better than a collection of Hanukkah poems to help celebrate the festival of lights?

History.com noted that Hanukkah is widely believed to be about celebrating the miracle of having enough oil to keep the menorah’s lights burning for eight days at a time when there was only enough oil for one night. It's a symbol of hope, of believing, and of miracles. Many people don't consider Hanukkah to be a massive holiday, like Christmas, but the celebration continues, and with these 10 Hanukkah poems, you can have something to read for every candle you light, plus a couple of extra.

Some of the poems highlight the hope and miracle of Hanukkah — they illustrate the story of Hanukkah beautifully and have a deeply religious meaning. And others? They make you laugh, remind you to make latkes, and are perfect for sharing with even the smallest members of your family this holiday season. Pick one for each night as you light your menorah and enjoy all Hanukkah has to offer.

1

"Chanukah Lights Tonight" by Steven Schneider

I love hearing descriptions of other people's holidays and the poem "Chanukah Lights Tonight" by Steven Schneider does not disappoint. Schneider describes the perfect Hanukkah party, and my favorite passage is when he compares the night to the nights he remembers as a child. Be sure to read the entire "Chanukah Lights Tonight" poem during the eight-day holiday. Here is an excerpt to enjoy:

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.

2

"Light The Festive Candles" by Aileen Lucia Fisher

The perfect poem to read every evening during Hanukkah? "Light the Festive Candles" by Aileen Lucia Fisher. It's such a short and sweet poem, highlighting the tradition of lighting the Menorah and why it's so important. It’s a great one, with a literal storytelling style for kiddos to hear and understand, too.

Light the first of eight tonight—

the farthest candle to the right.

Light the first and second, too,

when tomorrow's day is through.

Then light three, and then light four—

every dusk one candle more

Till all eight burn bright and high,

honoring a day gone by

When the Temple was restored,

rescued from the Syrian lord,

And an eight-day feast proclaimed—

The Festival of Lights—well named

To celebrate the joyous day

when we regained the right to pray

to our one God in our own way.

3

"The Coming Of Light" by Mark Strand

I love the hope that the lights of Hanukkah bring and it's illustrated in "The Coming of Light" by Mark Strand. The coming of love and the coming of light are what the holiday is all about and it's a really beautiful poem to share as you light the menorah. There’s a magical quality to it, with words that conjure images of starry skies and infinite belief.

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.

4

"In The Jewish Synagogue At Newport" by Emma Lazarus

According to the American Academy of Poets, Emma Lazarus was one of the first Jewish poets in the U.S. that wasn't a humor or hymnal writer, and many of her poems explored her Jewish identity and culture. "In The Jewish Synagogue At Newport" is a popular poem for Hanukkah (excerpted below), and explores the faith of the Jewish people and the hope in Hanukkah beautifully.

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!

5

"Honorary Jew" by John Repp

If you're not Jewish, but celebrating Hanukkah this year, you'll love "Honorary Jew" by John Repp. A fun poem that looks into Hanukkah as someone who isn't Jewish, but is eager to adopt the culture and traditions, it’s full of deeply thought reflections that you can share and contemplate as you join the celebration.

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.

6

“The Night Before Hanukkah” by Natasha Wing

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This rhyming book, much like a long poem in a rhythmic style reminiscent of Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” is a sweet illustration of a family gathering to celebrate the start of the Festival of Lights. The children’s book could serve as an introduction for littles ones, as it touches upon the history of the holiday, the faith that keeps it aflame, as well as some modern customs like nightly gift giving and delicious celebratory foods. Here’s an excerpt that’ll give you a taste of the storytelling within these pages.

The very next evening, our family gathered ‘round. The Festival of Lights began right after sundown.

Our menorah was set out by the window with care. It’s an heirloom passed down from our great-grandma Claire.

Dad put on his yarmulke, pinned it down on his hair.

Then Mom lit the Shammosh candle after saying the first prayer.

7

"Season Of Skinny Candles" by Marge Piercy

I love a good, deep poem, but there is something about a simply written one that makes you feel even more excited for the holiday season. "Season of Skinny Candles" by Marge Piercy is that poem. I love the descriptions and they literally paint a picture in your mind of Hanukkah, the darkness, the light, and the hope it all brings.

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

of quicksilver

the little candles poke

holes in the blackness.

A time to eat fat

and oil, a time to gamble

for pennies and gambol

8

"Hanukkah" by Hilda Morley

Reading "Hanukkah" by Hilda Morley in its entirety, in the format it was written, is a truly mesmerizing experience. This poem by Morley, a poet who came to most fame in the 1970s, goes into more than just the lighting of the candles, like what the numbers mean to her in her life. It’s dense and rich, and you can think on it for hours, long after the last candle flickers out. This excerpt prompts thoughts about a small drop of oil lighting a flame powerful enough to spark infinite fearless dreaming.

That house with the lucky

number brought me luck & misluck, both, like the other

that added to 7, out of 4 & 3,

that seven

underlying the eight of this week,

the 8 just over, the 7 just under

a third of the years with Stefan:

I praise them

both today—

the lasting oil

in the seven-branched candlestick:

absence

of all fear—the smallest

drop of fuel enough to leap from

9

"Hanukkah Lights" by Philip M. Raskin

Another famed poem about the meaning behind Hanukkah and the hope and love it brings, Raskin’s verses are full of tradition and share the history, the battle and true passed-down story of the holiday. The full version isn’t long, and is easy to follow. Afterward, it’s nearly impossible not to feel the joy of the miracle that was the eight days of candlelight.

And swiftly the message spread, saying:

"Judea, Judea is free,

Re-kindled the lamp in the Temple,

Re-kindled each bosom with glee!"

My Chanukah-candles soon flickered,

Around me was darkness of night;

But deep in my soul I felt shining

A heavenly-glorious light.

10

“Chanukah Dreams” by Judith Ish-Kishor

In a few short stanzas, Ish-Kishor shares what feels like a very personal recounting of a family celebration, naming characters that light the candles. But this poem also shares the completely relatable wish to sit and watch “every twinkling baby light” all night long. Its powerful imagery is full of color and warmth, and can be easily recited every night of the festival.

Chanukah I think most dear

Of the feasts of all the year.

I could sit and watch all night

Every twinkling baby light.

Father lights the first one—green;

Hope it always seems to mean;

Hope and Strength to glow anew

In the heart of every Jew.

Jacob lights the blue for Truth.

Pink for Love is lit by Ruth.

Then the white one falls to me,

White that shines for Purity.

How the story of those days

Fills my wondering heart with praise!

And in every flame one sees

The heroic Maccabees.