Moorings, Approaching Chanuka

Rooting yourself as you walk in grief

You light my lamp,
You lighten my darkness

-Psalm 18:29


Chanuka nears.

Teaching us how to move through shadows,
calling upon us to kindle light.

She whispers  reminders,
that even in the deepest of nights
miracles can unfold.




Symbol of Sustenance at this Time: the Chanukiah


Simple she stands, elegant.

And each night as we add a candle,
the light grows.

The Chanukiah models
how to find our way through the labyrinth
of this first year of loss,
from small one light
to the next.

Until one day we stand,
all our candles aflame,
glowing in the night.


Chanuka and the Winter Holidays:

kathy-ch-snow-waterCoping with grief during this Season of Joy.

The days shorten.
The year is moving towards its darkest point.

Chanuka and the winter holiday season bring up images
of families and friends gathering, partners and spouses, enjoying one another,
celebrating, and being together.

And these images evoke feelings, memories, and longings.

As with other junctures,
planning and consciously moving into
this season can make a difference.

What follows are resources to aid you in this time.


We have come to vanish night,
vanish night with candle light

-Chanuka song

Common Grief Reactions:

This time of year intensifies grief responses.

The lack of light, being cloistered indoors, social gatherings, the ending of the secular year, and being "outsiders" to Christmas celebrations, all mix together.

Feelings of loneliness, sadness, depression, and despair heighten in this season for many people, and
more so for those who mourn.

Months ahead many start dreading this season adding to its intensity.
Stay with and in each day.
Breaking time down into pieces can aid traversing this time.
Actively improvising can help you claim this period in a way that fits this year of your life.

Important Tasks During this Time:

Focus on what you need this year:
The journaling questions that follow can help you reflect on what's most important about Chanuka for you. 
Get rid of the "shoulds" and do what most moves you.

Simplify, delegate, and say no:
Watch for getting "guilt tripped" into doing things that you don't have the energy or desire to do. 
Most people over-estimate their energy level when mourning. 
Remember that holiday memories and feelings of grief will surface, and that now you've the additional task
of "grief work."
Prioritize and simplify your commitments.

Have time to be alone:
Leave space to be alone, to absorb the feelings that rise.
Memories and thoughts, both sweet and difficult will be stirring.
Take care of yourself. You may need more rest than you do normally.

Plan time to be with others:
Anticipate what times might be the most difficult for you and be with others who are loving. 
If you're not invited somewhere for a Chanuka celebration or during the holiday season, ask someone to join you.
Even if you feel like disappearing in this time, don't cut off from contact with others.

Communicate with friends and relatives beforehand:
Let them know what would help you feel supported during this time.
Ask what you can do to aid them.

Mix old and new traditions:
We can't turn back time and make things as they were.
Sometimes we idealize old times, and sometimes our old traditions can be consoling.
Choose what's been most nourishing for you in the past.

Ask your family and friends what would mean the most to them to observe this year. 
Use these as your basis for marking the holiday. 
Would having dinner in a different house be a relief, or would being in the same place you've been in previously feel comforting?

Think about spending some time doing volunteer work:
Call the central volunteer organization in your city. Sometimes shelters, food banks and hospitals need volunteers at
this time of year.  There are times when getting out of ones own world can offer new perspectives.
It can strengthen the heart to lend a hand to someone else in need.

Be mindful of the urge to "run away" from it all:
Some people travel hoping to get away from the intensity of their feelings and from their memories of the past.
Some find escape for a while.  Others find their feelings and memories accompany them wherever they go.

If you do travel, design your re-entry home with careful thought:
who will meet you on your return, at what time of day do you wish to return. 

For many, re-entering their homes, their lives, brings back a flood of feelings.
This isn't unusual and it will subside. Just be aware that this can happen.
Strategizing your return ahead of time can help ease the transition.

Plan for backup during the holidays:
Ask a friend to be your support buddy. See a counselor. Have someone available whom you won't have to
'take care of' but who can be with you and listen should you need to speak aloud what's coming through you.

Healthy routines:
Try to keep up some form of exercise, healthy eating and routine in sleeping as much as possible.


Not by might,

and not by power,

but by my spirit.

-Adapted Zechariah 4:6b





Natural Questions and Responses:

I feel exhausted and yet I know that my family expects that our celebration will be exactly the same as always.
I just don't have the energy to do the amount of work needed to celebrate the holiday. What should I do?

Talk with your family.  Let them know that this
year you're tired from the process of mourning, and that for you to truly celebrate Chanuka this year you'll need to
simplify your plans.

Ask them for their support for these changes this year.  Let them know what things you feel you can and want to do.
Listen to what they want to see happen this year and what they'll take responsibility for.
Brainstorm different options for handling what remains undone.

Honor your mourning and watch to not become too depleted from preparations.
Be clear about your priorities.  What is key is to enjoy one another's company, to be there for one another,
and to celebrate that which is beautiful and inspiring in this holiday.

When I think of all the tasks to do: cooking, buying gifts, meals, cleaning, I feel overwhelmed.
I'm having a hard time being imaginative for alternatives. Any short cuts?

If you're too tired to make latkes this year, buy latkes or sufganiot. Or make a potato kugel. Buy hash browns and just
add the additional ingredients needed for latkes.

Do a family gift draw, so each person has just one person to buy a gift for instead of many.
Use gift cards, subscriptions and catalogs.
Or make the theme of your gathering giving to others and donate items needed to a local shelter or organization
that reaches out to those in need in your community.

Have a pot luck dinner. Enlist your guests to help with dish washing and clean up after dining.
Do it together as a team.

I imagine all of us sitting around together, pretending that everything is fine, when it's not.
I don't want us to sit and cry through Chanuka, and yet I can't image pretending to be 'cheery'
when we're feeling sad.
How can we deal with this?

One way to deal with this situation might be to begin with inviting your loved one's spirit to join you.
For example, "_______(loved one's name),  we're thinking of you and miss you tonight.  Before we light our
candles, we invite you to join us in spirit."
Allow time for anyone to say what they need to and then begin your candle lighting and celebration.

Journaling Questions:

Explore what draws you.


  • What do you most love and look forward to about Chanuka? what about the holiday most touches you?
  • What specifically do you anticipate will be hard about Chanuka this year? What options do you have in dealing
    with that?
  • What would you like to add this year?
  • What would you like to not do this year?
  • What are you most concerned about this year? What would help you deal with that concern?
  • What motifs most resonate for you:
    light in darkness, the few fighting against the many, the power of spirit, standing for spiritual rights and
    freedoms, claiming of traditions, the possibility of miracles, things happening beyond the anticipated.
  • When you think of "re-dedicating" yourself, your life, what feelings, thoughts emerge for you?

Facing Christmas, this season, and the secular new year:

  • What is the hardest thing about this time of year for you?
  • How have you dealt with that in the past?
  • What would feel nourishing for you to do during this time of year?


Then shall Your light
burst through
like dawn,

and Your healing
quickly spring up.

-Adapted Isaiah 58:8




Things That Might Enrich This Time For You:

After you light your Chanukiah, take out a book
with Chanuka stories.

Old tales,  humor, warmth, and a taste of Jewish spirit can be medicinal for the soul.

Two old personal favorite books are: 

  • Wurtzel, Yehuda and Sara. Lights. NY: Rossel Books, 1984. (Also a DVD: enjoyed by children and adults)
  • Singer, Isaac Beshevits. The Power of Light. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.

Singing also restores spirit and we've a beautiful repertoire of music for Chanuka.
Make song sheets and invite friends over who are familiar with the songs. Sing after you kindle light.
If the music is unfamiliar to you, two well loved CD's filled with old classics are:

  • Light these Lights by Debbie Friedman and
  • Chankah A Singing Celebration with Cindy Paley

Let the music touch your heart and fill your home.

Just as on other holidays the giving of tzedakah in your loved one's memory to an organization that does good work
in this world can bring you comfort, knowing you are reaching out to others.

Marking the Winter Solstice: December 22nd:
Buy a bulb and begin watering it on the solstice.
Just watching a growing thing moving towards flowering can give heart.

Light a candle on the solstice.  Mark the darkest day of the year as well as the return of light.
Use that metaphor for your healing.

Treat yourself gently in this time of retreat.
Listen to music that touches you, light candles and take a warm bath.

Marking the new secular year:
Decide if you'd like to be alone or with others.

If you decide to be alone make a nurturing evening for yourself, including favorite foods, music, and/or a good book
or film. Go to bed early and get up for a morning walk to celebrate the newness of the year.

If you choose to be with others, know you can leave if things become hard for you.
Soak in the gifts of companionship of people dear to you.

Journal about opening the secular new year and what you'd welcome from it.

Mourning and Spiritual Messages Derived From This Holiday:
Gifts of Darkness, Gifts of Light:

Darkness invites us to turn inward. To slow down. To feel. To rest. To tuck inside. To dream. To do the work of soul.
All routes to healing grief.

And there are times when we venture into the shadows, when we move beyond the edge of that which is helpful.

There's a thin line known only in our cells by having crossed over it, where pain can turn to despair and where
hopelessness and bitterness can reign. This too has it's teachings.

It's powerful to learn of this point and how to deal with it,
to learn when these feelings move to becoming harmful, when we need say 'no' to them
and to step away from them and change the picture.

Despair and hopelessness often rise when we're depleted and worn.
They tell us we require rest and tending, that we're over our line.
That we might need comfort, caring.
And we learn ways to give that to ourselves, to consciously mother ourselves as would a dear friend.

In time we learn to carry a flint with us as we move into the shadows.
At times when we move into grief work we need purposefully draw in light.

In this time we draw up and savor the light of the person dear to us who's no longer physically here on earth.
We need search for the sparks of light embedded in the world which surrounds us each day.
The conscious kindling of light is yet another path of spirit.

The paths of darkness and of light both bring healing.
These intersect and compliment each other.
Both birth pieces we need, bear teachings.
Both are essential to this season and to our season of mourning.
The power of darkness and the power of light.


You shall not be afraid of
terror by night

nor of the arrow
that flies by day.

For God gives angels
charge over you

to watch over you
in all your ways.

-Psalm 91: 5,11

A Resource For Comfort and Support:

A prayer to aid your passage during this holiday.

I stand in the shadows of the waning moon at the darkest time of year.
I've traveled far and am weary.
The road has been long, fraught with dangers.
My sandals are worn, my spirits flagging.

Hold me and rinse me, scrub me and wash me,
cleanse me, cleanse me, and
help me emerge fresh and clear, my inner courts shining again,
ready for the sacred ceremonies.

Help me find my hidden vessel of sacred oil.
Fill my lamp.
Pour Your pure rich oil, the first press of olives,
let it flow over me and through me, soften me, heal me and
fill me, fill my containers up.

And each night,
kindle my flames.
Each night, one by one
increase my light.
That I might shine
and sing Your song,
Your song sing,
in this darkest of nights.

As I light this candle, so too may You light
my seven inner flames
and the eighth for healing.

I rededicate myself this night
to that which You wish of me.

May I walk in the path of Your light.



As we mourn,
as we use our powers to find our way in this time,

we open to the gifts of darkness
and to the gifts of light
and to the loving Presence of Spirit.

Take good care
as you travel through this season
of power, mystery
and the deeper places.







Guide to Hebrew words

Tzedakah: funds for justice making

Photography Credits

Kathy Berendt