Around Mother’s Day, I discovered the Holiday of Girls – a Jewish custom celebrated around Jewish Middle-Eastern communities during Hanukkah. My family is Moroccan so it made me wonder why I’ve never heard about it. I was determined to include it in our Hanukkah festivities and make it into the custom that it was intended to be.
I started planning it about a month ago. The holiday takes place on the eve of the first of the month of Tevet. That happened to fall right on the weekend we were set to be in Be’er Sheva with my parents. So I asked them to tell the family that we want to have my grandmother over specifically on that date, so that she could spend Chag Habanot with us.
I guess I should have planned it a bit better because I went crazy with all the preparations at the last minute and drove my husband crazy with it.
On the Wikipedia page I found about this holiday, it said that the custom is to have a dairy meal (in memory of Judith who gave Holofernes some milk before decapitating him). So on Friday, I tried a new recipe for cheesy Penne and a new sauce with plenty of veggies. Took me forever but it came out decent.
Another thing they said on the Wiki page is that it is also customary to eat a lot of sweet stuff. I already planned to take a piece of last week’s birthday cake to my parents (that I kept in the freezer), as well as the sufgies I made. But I still went ahead and tried making Churros. That was right after I was done with making the pasta, so I really had to hustle. The Churros didn’t come out as Churros but as fried snakes. So finally I decided to just fry them as I did the Sufgies and called them Sufganitas, to give them the Mexican sound of the food they were based on. I rolled them in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon and they were delicious.
Another Wiki fact about Chag Habanot – in one custom, they pick one inspirational woman of many accomplishments and give her a gift naming her “Yekirat Ha’eda” (The Beloved of the Community). Since Hanukkah is also my grandmother’s birthday, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to give her such a gift and name her Yekirat Ha’eda. On Tuesday, right after work, I went to a souvenir shop on the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall and ordered this colorful plate with decorations in the shape of the old city monuments and architecture, with an engraved plaque reading “Yekirat Ha’eda”. My husband went to pick it up on Friday morning.
I printed out the Wiki page and highlighted some parts of it to read to my family on the holiday.
After all the stress to try and get everything done, I heard that my extended family was planning a birthday party for my grandmother on the same evening of the first of Tevet. Of course, the party that they were planning had nothing to do with Chag Habanot because, like me, they’ve never heard of it before. At first, I was furious. I planned this shit for a fucking month and nearly lost my tuque making sure I get everything ready, and they up and steal it from right under me. Especially after I specifically requested that my grandmother spend the evening with us a whole fucking month in advance! I exclaimed “They fucking stole Memeh (my grandmother)!” And my daughter literally started crying.
“We’ll hide her so they can’t steal her then!” She said with defiance.
But then it occurred to me that Shabbat ends early because it gets dark so soon. And the birthday party they planned starts two hours later. So maybe we could make it work.
And we did!
After the Havdalah (the prayer we make to bid farewell to the Sabbath Queen), I took the stage and started my first ever Chag Habanot ritual. First, we lit the Menorah. It was the seventh candle and we had three menorahs – one that my dad lit, another that my daughter lit, and the third that I instructed only the girls of the family should light together, and I made the blessing on that one. It was me, my daughter, my mother and my grandmother who lit the third menorah together.
Then I sat in front of my grandmother, because she’s hard of hearing, and read to her the parts of the Wiki page I chose, to describe what Chag Habanot is, why we celebrate it during Hanukkah, who are the Jewish historical heroines we celebrate, and what are some of the customs in different Sephardi communities. Then, I gave her her gift and she was overwhelmed with joy. She even gave me one of her gold bracelets as a thank you gift, which was an incredible and moving gesture.
After that, we sat down for the dairy meal, had some sufgies and chocolate covered cones my mom made, and of course, a le’Chaim with Moscato wine my husband bought at the last minute. I got drunk for the first time in eons, but didn’t get sick which was great. And everything turned out perfect.
I’m so happy we have this holiday now and that it was reintroduced to our family as a regular custom of Hanukkah. We’ll have it every year from now on.
Peace, love and Esther is still my favorite Jewess of all times!