Tradition of Patterning Chanukah Candles

“So, every night of Chanukah, you put one candle in the menorah for the number of the current night, starting on the right, as well as the shamash, which you light the rest with, from left to right. Everyone does that… But in my family we always tried to do something cool with the candles themselves. My parents always bought those really cheap Chanukah candles from, like, the grocery store or somewhere that come in different colors like blue, white, yellow—I think it’s actually all the colors plus white—so my brother and I would always try to arrange the candles in some sort of pattern every night, So it was aesthetically pleasing, you know? Sometimes the whole menorah would be, like, one color, except the shamash. Or it would alternate colors, purple-orange-purple-orange, (actually, I think there were never green candles, um,…) but, yeah, we took a lot of art classes as kids, and were also both kind of OCD, so I guess that came out… We tried for complimentary colors and things… The challenge was always to plan ahead so that every night could have a perfect design. And we’d make sure that the last night could always be only blue and white—the Jewish colors. I dunno, it was just a kind of way to make it more interesting, the tradition, that is.”

I decided it would be interesting to see if I could collect religious folklore from someone not particularly religious, so this tradition/ritual comes from teenaged girl, who is ethnically Jewish, but neither practicing nor bat mitzvahed. I simply asked her to explain different components of how she celebrates Chanukah. This specific ritual practice puts a personal, non-institutional twist on something essential to the celebration of the holiday, the lighting of the menorah, which is mandated by the religion. It is way of inserting personal significance—in this case, a love of patterns, creativity, and mathematics—into a traditional ritual which would otherwise hold little meaning for my informant.