It was the sixth night of Hanukkah. The night when the latkes begin to go stale. The night when the dreidels start spinning lopsided, letting your brother whose dreidel only lands on gimmel unfairly win all the gelt. The night when the excitement from the first four nights, which carries into the fifth, has died, but the giddiness of the seventh night leading into the big finale of the eighth when you laugh to yourself over the fact that your holiday is over a week long hasn’t kicked in yet. In short, the worst night of Hanukkah.
And Harold knew it.
Harold was a candle. A sixth night candle to be specific. Each day of Hanukkah is a stressful day for the candles still in the box. They have no clue whether they’ll be chosen for the special first or eighth days, or if they’ll be stuck with the unwanted sixth. Candles want nothing other than to shed beautiful light, but they prefer to give off warm illumination when people appreciate it. And Harold sadly knew he and his fellow sixth night candles would not be valued.
That thought process brought Harold to the realization that he had a dilemma on his figurative hands: he could accept his fate as an underemployed candle, or he could attempt to bring real change to the world. But the latter would take a miracle. Still, Harold was the goal-oriented type, so he decided he would do all he could to bring some proper respect to Hanukkah’s sixth night, thus saving his own reputation in the process.
Harold was an inexperienced candle, having never been lit before, but his confidence radiated from him like the shamash on a hanukkiah. He decided the best place to start would be talking to Moshe the latke.
“Moshe, you’re an important Hanukkah tradition, right?” asked Harold nervously. He had never been in the presence of a great latke before. He could smell Moshe’s importance wafting over him.
“That’s right. What can I do for you, little candle?” replied Moshe.
“I’m worried about tonight.”
“Why should you be? Tonight will be just as grand as the past five nights of Hanukkah. There will still be dreidel spinning, latke eating, and of course, candle lighting.”
“But that’s exactly what I’m worried about! The people have been doing those same things for the majority of a week now. Why would they still care about those repetitive activities now?”
“Oh, but that’s the fun of it!” chuckled Moshe. “Hanukkah is about repetition. Remember, the oil for the great menorah lasted not for one night, not for two nights, not for three nights, not for—”
“But for eight nights, I know, ” interjected Harold impatiently. “I understand why this holiday is absurdly long, but I just don’t see why people care so much about it.”
“Give it time, young candle. Why don’t you go talk to Rachel the present. Maybe she can help you with whatever you’re concerned about. Which I still don’t get.”
With a sigh, Harold left the counter where Moshe sat steaming and walked to the fireplace. Rachel was lying down in front of the warm hearth, enjoying the thought of being unwrapped later that night. She frowned as Harold approached.
“Are you a spy?” she asked the candle. “I won’t tell you what’s inside me, so give up now. And remember, mister, torture is illegal.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t dare harm anyone,” said Harold hurriedly. “I was just stopping by to ask you a question.”
“Oh, sorry about that, dear. I get a little paranoid right before I get opened. I mean, what if the children don’t like me? What if they don’t think I’m as swell as their previous gifts?”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of, too!” exclaimed Harold excitedly. “On the sixth night, everything’s become rote, so you lose some of your holiday importance.”
“I don’t think it has anything to do with being on the sixth night. I’m just a worrier. Honestly, how could you even put one night of Hanukkah below the rest? They’re all so wonderful and unique!”
“But how can eating the same delicious latkes and opening up the same amazing gifts still be exciting after five days?”
“I think you just answered your question, dearie. Now let me ask you how people can still have fun lighting the same beautiful candles by the sixth night?”
“That’s what I don’t understand!” shouted Harold in frustration. He stormed away before Rachel could explain what she meant.
“That poor candle. He’s being too hard on himself,” Rachel said to herself. “Oh, I need to check up on my bow. It might need to be curled again.”
Harold had no idea he was so close to understanding Hanukkah. His beliefs about the lowliness of the sixth day prevented his own Hanukkah miracle from occurring. Still, he was a persistent candle, so he decided to talk to Sol the dreidel. Surely he would know.
“Sol, could I ask you a question?” asked Harold.
“Can’t you see I’m busy spinning around?” replied Sol curtly. “I can only take a break from my pirouettes to answer questions related to the meaning of Hanukkah.”
“That’s just what I have! I want to find out how I can help the sixth night of Hanukkah gain the same amount of respect as the other nights.”
“Oh. That quest. I have heard of this desire from many eager young candles like you, but none have succeeded. It is a dangerous road you travel, one full of perilous, hazardous, risky obstacles that have been designed to prevent any change. But if you are committed to your mission, I can help.”
“Others have tried to change Hanukkah, too? Why didn’t they succeed?”
“They never could grasp the true meaning of the Festival of Lights. Think about to whom you’ve been asking your questions. A potato pancake, a commercialized present, and a gambling top? Do any of those things really relate to Hanukkah?”
“I suppose they don’t…”
“No, they have everything to do with Hanukkah! But you’re forgetting about yourself. You’re a candle, the true mascot of the holiday. Without you, there wouldn’t have been a miracle to celebrate in the first place.”
“But the people only quickly light us so they can get on to the fun part of the festivities, like playing your game. All the candles are jealous of the dreidels.”
“Well all the dreidels happen to be jealous of the candles. Sure, we get played with, but our only use is to escalate competition within families and to be a tool to score some stale chocolate. Both of which could happen without us. But the Hanukkah lights can only come from one thing: candles.”
“Wow. I think you’re right, Sol.”
“Of course I’m right. Why would I feed you falsities?”
“I understand Hanukkah now, but that doesn’t mean the sixth night has regained its status as a proper night of Hanukkah. How can I fix that?”
“You’ve got me on that one. Sorry, kid. So I don’t feel like I failed you, I’m going to go back to spinning now. See you around.”
As Sol restarted his twirling, Harold sulked back to the other candles. They were now in their rightful place in the hanukkiah.
“Come on, Harold! Hop in!” shouted Rebecca, the second candle.
“Where have you been?” asked Michael, the fourth candle.
“Hush, children,” said Shlomo the shamash. “Can’t you see that Harold has a look of consternation on his face? What is the matter, child?”
“I’ve talked to all the Hanukkah traditions, but none of them could help me solve my problem.”
“I want to make the sixth night equal to all the other nights.”
“Ah, yes. The classic conundrum. How can you make a holiday that lasts a ridiculously long time without lessening the importance of any individual day? It’s an age old question that dates back to the time of the Maccabees.”
“Are you saying that it’s just a fact of life?”
“By no means do I mean that. But it could become one if no one challenges the established ways.”
“So what can I do to raise the sixth night up? I already understand the meaning of Hanukkah, but I can’t seem to apply my knowledge to solve the problem.”
“Think outside the candle box, Harold. Then maybe a solution will make itself as clear as the fact that Antiochus was evil.”
“That’s it! We’ll change the candle boxes!” With a smile on his face for the first time all day, Harold filled the other Hanukkah candles in on his grand plan.
An hour later, the candles rested tranquilly in their rightful places in the hanukkiah. Even Harold was sitting peacefully. Below them lay nine scattered candles, each broken in half.
“I think we just made a Hanukkah miracle,” Harold said.
“That we did, my child,” said Shlomo. “Now that we eliminated one day of Hanukkah by getting rid of the extra candles, there won’t be the same awkward sixth day. The sixth night can be a celebrated night just like all the others.”
“I can’t believe I accomplished two things today: learning the meaning of Hanukkah and setting straight the record on day six. And in such a small number of words, too!”
That night, the people lit the candles, ate latkes, opened gifts, and spun the dreidels just as they had the past five nights, but they actually enjoyed participating in these holiday celebrations. They were so confused over the fact that they could now only celebrate Hanukkah for seven nights because of the missing candles that they had to channel their bewilderment into something worthwhile. They chose celebrating the Festival of Lights.
Harold and his holiday friends had saved Hanukkah.
“How do you think our change will affect night number five?” asked Harold to the other candles, as they were burning bright. “Don’t you think it’s kind of in an awkward spot now?”
Well, saved until next year.