As much as I’ve loved the Christmas romance collections over the years, especially the Regency ones, there was always a little part of me saying, “That’s nice for you, but what about those of us who eat Chinese food and go to the movies on December 25? Where’s our happy ending?”
We can finally say, Nes Gadol Ha-ya Po, “A great miracle happened here!”, as a major publisher releases a romance anthology just in time for Chanukah 5776, beginning sundown on the 25th of Kislev (December 6).
Let’s start with the basics: Chanukah is not a major Jewish holiday, but is a post-biblical festival dating back a little more than 2,000 years. However, its proximity to another religion’s holiday has caused it to loom large in the North American consciousness. Chanukah commemorates the victories of the Jews in overthrowing their idol worshiping Greco-Syrian overlords, regaining their sovereignty, and re-dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem. The priests found one small jug of sanctified olive oil to rekindle the menorah (sacred lamp), but only enough for one day. The people had great faith and lit the flames anyway, banishing the darkness and rekindling freedom of worship. The oil miraculously burned for eight days until fresh supplies were procured, and ever since we light candles or oil each night for eight days to mark the miracle.
Chanukah is a festival with particular significance to women, so having a new romance anthology all about the Festival of Lights, a festival whose very name translates as “Dedication”, is a nice holiday treat.
How is Chanukah significant for women? If you go back to Talmudic discussions, you find women were so integral to the revolt in ancient Judea that they’re not supposed to not do housework while the chanukiyah (Chanukah menora) is lit. It’s time off earned for kick-ass behavior!
In addition to the pretty lights and a break from housework, how can you not love a holiday that’s all about fried food, cheese and wine? Traditional Chanukah food is fried in oil to celebrate the miracle in the Temple: Israeli sufganiyot (doughnuts), Sephardi buñuelos (orange fritters), Ashkenazi latkes (potato pancakes). The wine and cheese celebrates Judean heroine Judith, who seduced enemy general Holofernes with her great beauty, and by serving him salty cheese, which caused him to drink wine until he passed out. Then she cut off his head. I love a story with a happy ending.
In recent years we saw a few Chanukah romances crop up—Christa McHugh’s WWII love story set at a U.S. Army field hospital, “Eight Tiny Flames”, was in the collection A Very Scandalous Holiday. Sarah Wendell offered the ebook novella “Lighting the Flames”, set in a summer camp during the off-season.
This year a major publisher, Avon, brought out the collection Burning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories, just in time for the holiday:
“Miracle” by Megan Hart—This sweet tale touches on a little known issue, very religious Jews who go “off the derech”, leaving their strictly observant communities for the wider world. It’s a difficult adjustment for Ben Schneider, but he finds his neighbor Amanda willing to help him navigate through new customs and traditions as she shows him her Chanukah celebration of helping her neighbors experience the holidays with joy.
“A Dose of Gelt” by Jennifer Gracen—“Gelt” is money, the traditional Chanukah gift, symbolized by foil wrapped chocolate coins. Evan Sontag and Shari Cohen have so much in common and such a great relationship that when Evan brings Shari to his family’s annual Chanukah party, there’s discussion of when they’re setting a date. Honestly, Evan, if you didn’t think that was going to happen at the family gathering—with your grandmother—you haven’t been paying attention. He flips out, because as a family law attorney he’s seen too many marriages end up on the rocks and he doesn’t think marriage is for him. Now he has to win back Shari, the woman he realizes he can’t live without. It helps that there are eight days of Chanukah with which to offer heart-felt gifts...and his heart, too.
“Home for Chanukah” by Stacey Agdern—Jon Adelman travels the country producing modern Jewish music, discovering and promoting artists who fuse tradition with current sounds. It’s a busy life which doesn’t leave him any time to make his apartment into a home. When his neighbor, designer Molly Baker-Stein, sees his folding chair, futon and card table living arrangements, she’s horrified. For Chanukah she’s going to help Jon have the living space he deserves…and things go terribly wrong. It’s going to take a Chanukah miracle (and help from both sides of the family—do you see a trend in these stories?) to get them back together and appreciating one another.
“All I Got” by KK Hendin moves the action across the Atlantic. Modern Orthodox Tamar is taking a winter break from college to eat sufganiyot in Israel, apartment sit for a friend from their girls’ seminary year, and flirt with cute soldiers at bus stops. She’s particularly charmed by Avi, with his sweet smile and Southern accent, but she knows it can’t go anywhere because she’ll return to the States after the holiday. This story is peppered with a lot of “Henglish”, Hebrew/English mixed conversation, but the tale is universal as lovers try to connect, each knowing their lives are separated by an ocean.
So curl up with a doughnut and a glass of wine, enjoy some chocolate coins, tell the family to fend for themselves while the candles twinkle in the window, and indulge yourself. Chanukah is about taking leaps of faith. Love is all about leaps of faith too, and these stories illustrate how during the holiday season, we all have to light our small flames in the darkness and have faith that love will endure.
Learn more about or order a copy of Bruning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, and Jennifer Gracen, out now:
Darlene Marshall writes award-winning historical romance about pirates, privateers, smugglers and a possum or two—and while she knows how to cook a possum, she’s glad she doesn’t have to since they’re definitely not kosher.