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 should be accompanied by some kind of reading, 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?
According to History.com, Hanukkah is all about celebrating the miracle of having enough oil to keep the light burning for eight days. It's a symbol of hope, of believing, and of miracles. Unlike Christmas, those who are religious don't consider Hanukkah to be a massive holiday, but the celebration is still there and with these eight Hanukkah poems, you can have something to read for every candle you light.
Some of the poems highlight the hope and miracle of Hanukkah — they illustrate the true 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 perfectly 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.
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 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. A great one 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 I love how 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.
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 that wasn't a humor 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 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, you'll want to share it with all of your Jewish family and friends to get your own stamp of approval.
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. "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 and the hope the lights bring.
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
7. "Hanukkah" by Hilda Morley
"Hanukkah" by Hilda Morley goes into more than just the lighting of the candles, but what the numbers mean to her and in her life. It's really gorgeous and reading "Hanukkah" in its entirety means reading it in the orginial formatting Morley wrote it in.
That house with the lucky
number brought me luck & misluck, both, like the other
that added to 7, out of 4 & 3,
underlying the eight of this week,
the 8 just over, the 7 just under
a third of the years with Stefan:
I praise them
the lasting oil
in the seven-branched candlestick:
of all fear—the smallest
drop of fuel enough to leap from.
8. "Chanukah Lights" by P. M. Raskin
Another great poem about the meaning behind Hanukkah and the hope and love it brings is "Chanukah Lights" by P. M. Raskin. For those who want a little more tradition in their poems and to share the true story of the holiday, read the full version of "Chanukah Lights".
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.