It was the end of a long day of work and childcare. My two kids, ages 4 and 5, were finally asleep, and I had collapsed on the couch to read for a few minutes before tackling the laundry and the dishes.

Shivering, I pulled my sweater more closely around me;It was time to move on, but how? winter had just set in, and the world seemed a dark and dreary place just then.

But duty called. I dragged myself to my feet and headed towards the kitchen, passing my wall calendar on the way to the sink. Was there anything to look forward to over the next few weeks? The fall holidays were over; it was a while till spring. But Chanukah was coming.

Chanukah. I paused. Two years post-divorce, I had passed the initial shock and grief stages of my marriage’s dissolution. But I hadn’t yet found the way to infuse my lonely, meaningless existence with a measure of joie de vivre, or in Hebrew, simchat hachaim. I was raised in a religious family, and I’d learned my whole life the importance of serving G‑d with joy (Ivdu et Hashem b’simchah, as King David says in Psalms 100:2). Right now, though, I wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

I knew it was time to move on, but how?

Maybe I could plan a Chanukah party to banish some of the dreariness I was feeling, I thought suddenly. Nothing big, just my immediate family—my parents, siblings, niece and nephews (who were all quite small at the time). Hosting alone is hard; I’d learned that over the past few years as my repeated attempts to invite company had ended in failure. Even if company came, I ended up feeling like they’d accepted my invitation more out of a sense of pity than out of a real desire to spend time with me and my children. It was easier to just go out for Shabbat and holiday meals than to cook, clean and entertain.

But Chanukah was different. A weekday dinner, which didn’t require the formal holiday meal, could be quite festive. I could pull off theChanukah was different paper goods, program and cooking with just a little help from my younger sisters and my sister-in-law. Yes, I could do this.

I tentatively launched the plan to my children the next day, and they were immediately enthusiastic. A few phone calls later, and we were ready to roll.

When I looked around my full-to-overflowing dining room a few weeks later, my heart was full to overflowing, too. In the window, my Chanukah lights glowed; in my home, a miracle of light shone in my children’s eyes. We, too, could add to the joy of the holiday, even if our family unit was still incomplete. G‑d had shown me the way, and I was so grateful for the gifts of the moment.

Tips on Creating a Chanukah Atmosphere

  1. Buy a menorah (or craft your own) for each member of the family. Even 3-year-olds can light with an adult’s helping hand—and who can resist those brightly colored candles?
  2. Take a few minutes after candle-lighting to enjoy your family. Women, especially, are enjoined to avoid housework or cooking in the first half-hour after the candles are lit (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 670:1). Sing, play dreidel or read about the Chanukah miracle together. Play Jewish music and invest in a few Chanukah gifts or new toys. It’ll make the lighting time special and create memories for years to come.
  3. Plan your week. Get together with friends or extended family for at least one or two nights of the holiday, and make it fun and exciting by trying delicious dairy recipes (in commemoration of Judith’s defeat of the Greek general), frying latkes or donuts (in commemoration of the miracle of the oil) or even just purchasing Chanukah-themed paper goods.
  4. Buy a “Happy Chanukah!” banner or make your own. If you have young children at home, print Chanukah coloring pages for them and hang them up on your front door to brighten the atmosphere. One year, we cut dreidels out of colored paper to use as place cards at our party. It’s an activity that even preschoolers can enjoy.
  5. It’s a dark and cold time of year, but don’t let the weather outside pull you down! The Chanukah miracle occurred specifically during the longest nights of the year to teach us that just when things seem the darkest, there’s hope on the horizon.