A Confined Hanukkah in France:: Remembering What is Important

A Confined Hanukkah in France:: Remembering What is Important

We are on our second lockdown here in France {although, some restrictions have been lifted, and we are looking at the end of confinement by December 15th}, and just like all the holidays and birthdays that have passed by this year, we are gearing up for a very isolated Hanukkah. Even though this might sound grim, I have worked hard to ensure that my family celebrates every holiday and every birthday, and I have gotten creative in order to keep things light-hearted and fun, despite these days not looking like they have in the past.

On top of the fact that COVID has changed everything in terms of celebrations, being Jewish in the south of France has never been that easy for us. There are very few Jews here, and the sense of community that I so dearly cherished in Houston, is the very exact opposite where we currently live. Through word-of-mouth, I was able to find a Jewish congregation in the heart of Montpellier. They rent out a space in a Protestant theological center, and during non-lockdown periods, they meet on a consistent basis and celebrate Jewish holidays and pray together. 

Although I am grateful for finding this small congregation, we tend to be the only family with young children attending, and we do not go often {really only for the high holy days} because the meeting times are quite late for our children, and unlike our congregation in the U.S., there aren’t any programs geared for younger listeners. That being said, the few times we have gone, it has been a truly warm experience. We are greeted with open arms and hearts, and it is apparent that our children brighten the mood among the other congregants {as all children tend to do}.

With all the limitations we are facing this year, as well as the overall scarcity of Jewish life where we live, here are a few ways I plan to celebrate Hanukkah in France in 2020 with my family::

We will light the menorah and open one gift each night, for eight consecutive nights

This is truly the bedrock of Hanukkah anyway. Last winter, we were traveling over Christmas break and spent a large part of the holiday in Strasbourg, aka “La Capitale de Noël,” so you can imagine Hanukkah in France wasn’t in the forefront of our minds. However, I brought a mini travel menorah with us, and we lit candles every night {sometimes very late at night} before the kids went to bed. We left all of the gifts at home for them to open when we returned, and they were totally fine with that set-up.

Hanukkah isn’t as important in significance as Christmas is to Christians. It essentially commemorates the miracle of light, based off a story of a candle that was only supposed to burn for one night, but lasted eight nights, during the time of the Maccabees and the revolt against the Seleucid Empire.

Lighting the menorah and reciting a prayer is all that is required for observing this holiday…however, many children and adults, alike, find lots of happiness in the customs and traditions revolving around Hanukkah that have increased in significance over time.

A Confined Hanukkah in France:: Remembering What is Important

Let there be Latkes

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are the signature Hanukkah food, and really, soul food for most Jews in America. And since there is never a shortage of potatoes in France {potatoes are a French staple}, it will not be hard to fry some up. As I’m sure many people have experienced this year with quarantining, we have found comfort in, at the very least, some of the foods we love. I usually don’t make latkes for Hanukkah {they are kind of tedious, and they smell up your kitchen for days…plus my mom made them when we lived in Houston}, but you better believe it will be in the plans this year during our Hanukkah in France!

My kids will play dreidel for chocolate coins

Another tradition during Hanukkah involves a little game of spinning a dreidel, or top, and gaining or losing gelt {chocolate gold coins}. On par with my experience of living in the south of France, I had to improvise on finding official gelt, but I happened to find some chocolate Euro coins in a discount supermarket the other day {apparently a popular Christmas chocolate in France} and of course I snatched up four bags of those babies to use for some entertaining games each evening.

The gifts are all coming from my dear friend, Amazon

What did we do before Amazon came along? I mean, I  seriously can’t remember life before it. And now more than ever, it is a vital resource for me. All of the non-essential shops have been closed for the past month, and they are just now re-opening. It still seems risky for me to be out there shopping for non-essential items, and it’s just so much easier when the gifts can be delivered on your doorstep.

If it wasn’t for Amazon France, I would not have much to offer my kids each night. Sure, they would live. That’s not really what Hanukkah is about anyway. But just like I let the exception of smelling up my kitchen with fried latkes take place this year, I feel an urge to find really good gifts for my kids to unwrap for eight nights in a row. My hope is that these well thought-out little morsels geared towards their own personal tastes will fill their love cup just a little more, despite not getting to be with extended family or travel to cool places like Strasbourg this year.

Most importantly, we will have each other

If there is anything we have learned while living abroad, it is that our little family can face anything as long as we are together. There are only four of us {five, including our sweet dog}, but that is all we need to feel at home. This Hanukkah in France will be no exception when it comes to our determination to make the most out of our time here. We will be together, and we will have fun. And that is all that really matters.


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Originally from Denver, Colorado, Emily moved to Sugar Land, Texas as a young girl. She studied journalism and psychology at UT Austin, and has experience in newspaper reporting, technical writing, and freelance writing. When she can, she works on writing her first-ever book. Somehow, Emily randomly ends up living abroad for short stints of time. In 2007, while attempting to heal a broken heart, she moved to Bilbao, Spain, and completed a six-month work-study program. Despite swearing off serious relationships, her husband, Oren, swooped in shortly after her return. They struggled with infertility, but were ultimately rewarded with their two precious children, Mayer {June 2013} and Juliet {April 2015}. In 2019, Emily’s family relocated to Montpellier, France, for Oren’s job. They managed to learn the language, forever spoiled their taste buds, and saw some really beautiful things. Now back in Houston, they are eating all the Tex-Mex and enjoying family.

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