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Hanukkah: 8 Things You Might Not Know About the Eight Nights

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A closeup of candles burning.

It’s finally the holiday season here in the US, and all the signs are upon us. Christmas music is playing in most public spaces on the rare occasions we leave our homes, decorations and Christmas trees are going up in private and public spaces, and anticipation of that one magical night is high. Or, it is if you’re Christian.

Jewish people living in the United States, while the world around them gears up for Christmas, celebrate Hanukkah while simultaneously weathering the yearly bombardment of questions and assumptions about what the holiday is like.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what Hanukkah is actually like from people outside the Jewish community, so to help with that confusion, here’s a list of common mistakes people make about how to celebrate Hanukkah, and some general fun facts about a common Jewish holiday.

1. It’s Not “Jewish Christmas”

This is likely self-explanatory, but it’s important to cover. Because of its closeness to Christmas during the year, Hanukkah has become perceived as the “Jewish Christmas”, a holiday with equivalent importance to Christmas, which is not true at all. Christmas is one of the most important holidays in the Christian tradition, commemorating the birth of Jesus. Hanukkah is not on par with that importance.

2. It’s Actually a Minor Holiday

This is the big one that trips non-Jewish people up a lot: Hanukkah is not a big deal at all for Jewish people. For Jews, all the important holidays are tied directly to holy or important days, like Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the Jewish New Year; and Yom Kippur, which is a day of mourning and remembrance. Hanukkah has no associated holiness to it, making it a very minor event in the Jewish Calendar.

A menorah with two candles burning, one in the middle and one on the far right.
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3. Hanukkah is About a Rebellion and a Miracle

Part of the reason why Hanukkah is actually not very important is that the story it commemorates is not part of important Jewish traditions like The Torah. Hanukkah celebrates the rebellion and reclamation of Jewish land and temples by a band of rebels known as the Maccabees. Once the rebellion succeeded and the temple was reclaimed, the Jewish people wanted to relight the menorah (that branching candle holder that’s associated with Hanukkah) inside to reconsecrate the temple, but all the special oil they burned in the menorah was destroyed. They only found a tiny jar which held barely enough oil to last a night. Amazingly though, the small amount of oil burned for eight days and eight nights, giving the Jewish people time to make more oil. This is the miracle of Hanukkah, and why Jews celebrate by lighting Hanukkiah for eight nights. Pretty interesting, huh?

4. There Aren’t Christmas Levels of Gifts

This isn’t true for all families, but for the most part, Hanukkah is a more low-key affair than Christmas. Most Jewish people give smaller gifts across the whole of the eight nights, with maybe a few larger items in there, but not an overflow of gifts every night.

5. Shockingly Enough, Gift Giving Isn’t Even Traditional

This might be surprising even to Jewish-Americans, but gift giving during Hanukkah is not actually traditional! There is no significance to gift giving like there is to other parts of the Hanukkah tradition, and in fact, it’s almost entirely a Jewish-American behavior. Why? Because of Christmas. Sometime around the 1920s, American Jews began buying gifts for their children to celebrate Hanukkah so they wouldn’t feel left out when all their peers got Christmas gifts, so it’s largely an American invention.

6. But Eating Fried Food is Traditional

Everyone always focuses on gifts and lighting candles, but it’s interesting to note that another tradition in Hanukkah is eating fried food. “Latkes”, a kind of fried potato pancake, are associated closely with the holiday, but they’re actually important because they’re fried. The tradition relates back to the story of Hanukkah and the oil that burned for eight nights. To honor this, Jews eat fried food like latkes and “sufganiyot”, fried donuts that are often jelly-filled. That’s one thing Christmas and Hanukkah do have in common: they’re both incredibly healthy holidays. 

A large sculpture of a menorah outside in the snow.
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7. Blue and White Decorations Aren’t, Though

If you’ve ever seen any decorations for Hanukkah you’ve likely seen strings of blue and white lights or decorations, as opposed to the normal red and green of Christmas. Surprisingly, though, there’s actually no association between Hanukkah and blue and white. Blue and white are important colors for Jews, as the traditional prayer shawl called a “tallit” is usually white with stripes of blue on the ends. Hanukkah decorations in blue and white are another tradition that started in America because of Christmas. To not feel left out of the Christmas spirit, some Jews began decorating with blue and white, but outside the US, this isn’t a common behavior at all.

8. Hanukkah is “The Festival of Lights,” but ‘Hanukkah’ Means Something Different

Finally, it’s important to think about the most important part of Hanukkah. The lighting of the menorah is the most crucial tradition of Hanukkah and the main way Jewish people the world over celebrate the holiday, which is why the holiday is affectionately called The Festival of Lights. The word ‘Hanukkah’, however, actually means ‘rededication’ or ‘consecration’, to commemorate the consecration of the temple by the lighting of the menorah in the Hanukkah story.

In 2020, Hanukkah runs from December 10th to 18th, so if you know anyone Jewish who observes the holiday, wish them a happy holiday and a good new year to come. Hopefully, you understand at least one Jewish tradition a little bit better now.

College Voices

5 Unique Tips for a Fresh Start in 2021

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A women smiling while on her phone and working on her laptop sitting next to a man who is also smiling.
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As the pandemic looms on and remote working continues, it feels increasingly difficult to find new and better ways to start fresh in the new year. Especially at home, your immediate thoughts might jump to the towering pile of boxes in your garage or the mysterious mold that’s been growing in your shower. Of course, the ongoing pandemic has caused a worldwide case of stress-based quarantine clutter, and it’s definitely important to set aside a day (or three) to clean out that accumulated mess. 

At the same time, however, while cleaning out your physical space has been proven to improve your mental health, there exist many other methods to help clear your mind and start this year with a renewed outlook. 

Here are 5 unique tips for a fresh start in 2021

Tip #1: Mindful Eating 

Before the pandemic, when we were all rushing to our next class, to an appointment or to work, eating might have felt like an automatic or even tedious act. Now, researchers are noting the effects of the “Quarantine 15”, the weight gain many people are facing as a result of the stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic. 

As we spend another year at home, you should skip the fad diets this year and instead opt for the kinder, more attentive realm of mindful eating. Grounded in the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, mindful eating consists of a variety of ways in which you can strive to be more observant of how, when, and why you eat. 

A bowl of oatmeal and berries and banana slices.
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Whether it’s eating slower or recognizing the distinct taste of your food, you can learn to slow down and grow a greater sense of appreciation for not only the food you eat, but also the ritual of eating. This doesn’t mean that you need to give up your morning coffee or stop munching on your favorite brand of chips. Mindful eating instead encourages you to pause for a moment, really taste your coffee or chips, enjoy it, and continue on your day. By paying attention to how we eat, we can all learn to focus more on these little moments and find a grander purpose in them. 

Tip #2: Move Your Body 

In addition to mindful eating, it’s just as important to be mindful of your body and find ways to exercise it! From starting a rigorous at-home workout to performing desk exercises, below are a few fresh ways to get your blood pumping.

  1. Workout Routine 

Searching for workouts of which there are a plethora of possibilities. Including glute bridges, sumo squats, and plenty more, the article introduces all the ways you can start an easy, active routine. 

  1. Yoga 

It’s been proven how much yoga has done to relieve pandemic stress and anxiety. Its principles are also founded on philosophies similar to the Buddhist mindfulness mentioned above, so combining yoga routines with mindful eating is sure to prepare your mind and body for the new year. Though in-person yoga studios are closed for now, many are currently hosting free video classes, specifically aimed at relieving pandemic struggles. So roll out your yoga mats or find a comfortable, flat surface, and get your yoga game on! 

A women with dark hair and pink shirt doing yoga.
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  1. Desk Exercises 

Is starting a full-out workout or yoga routine too much of a commitment? No worries, there’s a reason why gym membership attendance drops significantly into the new year. Since you’re at your desk, try these quick and easy desk exercises during class or work breaks. You can stretch out your wrists to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or, if you have a swivel chair, work out your abs by turning your chair left and right!

Tip #3: Clear Your Mind for a fresh start 

With social media piling up on hundreds of the latest news stories, it’s difficult to find space for yourself, even in your own mind. For a fresh start to the new year, pull out that notebook or journal that’s been hiding on your bookshelf, and journal it out! Not only can journaling help to improve your mental health, taking the time to write can allow space for you to critically reflect on this past year. What did you learn in 2020? What have you been struggling with? What dreams do you have for the new year? Writing it all down can help you untangle all of the complicated emotions that you may have been struggling with, and enter the new year with a fresher, more positive outlook. 

A closeup of someone writing in a journal.
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Tip #4: Purposeful Content Consumption 

We are all definitely guilty of binging two seasons of a Netflix show or diving into an endless Internet rabbit hole. Purposeful content consumption works along the same lines of mindful eating by learning to pay more attention to what content we are watching, reading, or listening to. As we enter the new year, strive to diversify the media or content that you usually watch without a second thought. It is known that the Internet, and social media specifically, has been prone to causing political and social polarization, or in simpler terms, consuming only certain kinds of content can lead you to think a certain way (i.e. watching only cat videos and none of the amazing dog videos could lead you to believe that dogs are really not that great). So push yourself to learn about the other sides, and maybe you can develop some empathy along the way!

A women on a subway reading a book on a kindle.
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Tip #5: Reach Out & Remind Others That You Care 

Start fresh in all of your friendships and relationships by making it an active goal to be more attentive to all the people you care about in your life. 2020 was the year when we learned to be more grateful for our loved ones, so put it into action! Send a message to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or call your mom and ask about her day. By making it a habit to consistently check in with others, we solidify our relationships with them as well. After all, humans are social creatures, and research has shown that social connections are key to our well-being! 

A mossy log with a small plant growing out of it.
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While this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the ways you can enter 2021 new and improved, these tips are sure to help in redirecting your perspective of how you can change things up. Whether it’s practicing mindfulness or starting little desk exercises, continue to be gentle and kind with yourself and all your new year’s resolutions. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, after all, and it’s just as important to take a day or two off for some self-care and self-love!

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College Voices

5 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Actually Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions in 2021

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Fireworks above a city on New Year's.
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The year 2020 is finally over, and we have a new year to look forward to! After living ten years in the course of one, you’re ready for the next phase. If you’re anything like the majority of the world’s population, you’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past—and broken them within a month. But you keep making them, because you enjoy the optimism: beginning a new year on the right foot, promising to be a better, more fit and a more skilled version of yourself. 

Here are ways you can stick to your New Year’s Resolutions in 2021

  1. Tell people about your resolution

Usually, we’re told that peer pressure is a bad thing. But in the case of a New Years’ Resolution, it might be just what you need. Positive reinforcement (encouragement and support) from your friends and family can push you to learn the guitar, lose the beer belly, or whatever it is you want to do in this new year. Disappointment (or the fear of it) can also push you to work harder toward your goal. If the cost of failing on your resolution is a whole bunch of awkward and sad conversations, maybe that’ll keep you on the straight and narrow.

  1. Break it down into manageable chunks

This is something essentially everybody tells you about anything, but it’s true. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step—and continues, step by step. A New Years’ Resolution isn’t accomplished all at once, but rather gradually. Don’t push yourself too hard, and don’t get down on yourself if your goal is still a long way off. Set realistic markers along the way, and at each one check in with yourself. That way, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment as you go, and you’ll see your progress stack up.

  1. Care for yourself

Treat your New Year’s Resolution as what it is: a gift. When you accomplish it, not only will you get the benefit of whatever your goal is, but you’ll feel more confidence and pride in yourself. This feeling of accomplishment is full of benefits: it makes you better poised to chase down the next opportunity, better prepared to be a positive influence in the lives of others, and can even make you live longer. In making a New Years’ Resolution, and caring about yourself, you’re giving the best present you can give yourself, so don’t think of it as correcting something that’s wrong about you, but giving yourself another thing that’s right about you.

  1. Forgive yourself, don’t define yourself 

When a friend who’s made a mistake comes to you for help, do you immediately tell them that they’re worthless, that everybody knows it, and that they should just give up already? No, but this treatment is something of the norm when it comes to yourself. Unfortunately, many of us treat ourselves this way; we are quick to criticize and slow to forgive. Strangely enough, this negative self-talk often gives us permission to betray our resolutions. 

If you resolve, in 2021, to cut down on carbs and one night you give in to the urge to order a bunch of pasta on Postmates, don’t beat yourself up for it the next morning. Accept the mistake and continue working toward your goal the next day. Don’t decide you’re undisciplined, gluttonous, and have failed. Everyone messes up a few times and forgiveness is the best way to move forward. 

Penne pasta in a pot.
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  1. Use your resolution as a chance to explore new horizons 

We all have ideas about who we’d like to be, and we all face the realities of who we are. While a person who wakes up every morning at 6 a.m. and works out in order to get a clean, fresh start to the day is certainly admirable, that person might not be you. In making resolutions, pick goals that flow organically from who you are. If you don’t know who you are (because who really does?) then go into a resolution with flexibility. 

If, for example, your resolution is to get fit, don’t force yourself into a box with it. Instead, try different exercises, intensities, and intervals. Don’t stick yourself in the gym for a 45-minute routine with weights when what you’d really enjoy doing is going to a yoga class or going for a run. Realize that everybody is different, and rather than changing yourself into somebody new, your resolution can be a way of discovering who you might already be. Think of it as an exploration. Let things develop, and commit to remaining open and focused.

A list of Woody Guthrie's New Year's Resolutions on a lined notebook.
Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Resolutions — a good role model
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The year, 2021 will likely be another challenging year. You already know why, so there’s no reason to repeat it here. But remember that you got through 2020, and if your resolution for 2021 is to just survive it sane, healthy, and maybe a little wiser—that’s totally fine. It’ll take some doing, but you’re definitely further along than you think you are. 

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College Voices

The Overwhelming Mental Health Impact of Climate Change

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Wildfire
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People across the globe are being affected by climate change. Global warming and climate change are having detrimental effects on the Earth such as increased flooding, hotter temperatures, wildfires, and droughts. Wildlife and ecosystems are being destroyed. Sea levels are rising. The list goes on and it can be overwhelming to take in the effects of climate change. This is why mental health is being greatly affected by climate change, particularly in teenagers and college students.

Climate Anxiety

Anxiety related to the global climate and fear of environmental doom is often referred to as eco-anxiety or climate anxiety. This anxiety is a legitimate reaction to a serious problem. A large population of Generation Z is burdened by climate anxiety. This is because they are concerned about their futures considering the state of the Earth and the fatal implications of climate change. 

A contributing factor to climate anxiety is the lack of action currently being taken by political leaders. Many leaders in positions of power are avoiding climate issues rather than solving them. This has prompted members of younger generations to step up and fight for change. Young activists like Greta Thunberg have taken the lead in protesting climate injustices. But watching older generations sit back while climate change is destroying the planet can lead to feelings of frustration and anger, which are common symptoms of climate anxiety.

The mental health effect of climate change
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Climate change can be a controversial topic and there is a fair amount of conflict surrounding it. Everyone reacts differently to the topic: many people shut down when climate change is brought up and they avoid the subject altogether. Others are fearful of the effects of climate change and want to help but feel powerless. And some people are eager to take action and do their part in combating climate change. 

Many teenagers and college students have made efforts to reduce their carbon footprint by making lifestyle changes. Going vegan, carpooling, and shopping sustainably are some of the many ways to cut down on carbon emissions. But unfortunately, big corporations are some of the main contributors to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions––a major contributor to climate change––are the highest they’ve ever been. This leaves young generations as they have difficulty believing that they can make a difference. 

How Climate Change Affects Mental Health

Every continent on the Earth is now affected by climate change. Meaning, climate anxiety is a global issue and can affect anyone, regardless of location, wealth, or privilege.

A polar bear walking.
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Many people are mentally affected by climate change because they have been faced with natural disasters, such as wildfires, serious storms, or flooding. While everyone reacts and copes differently, many survivors of these environmental disasters have some sort of lasting psychological trauma. PTSD, anxiety, depression, and grief are some of the many mental health issues that people who have lived through natural disasters struggle with. 

But you don’t need to be directly faced with a natural disaster to feel climate anxiety or despair over the state of the Earth. Just witnessing and learning about climate change is enough to cause mental health issues. There’s a sense of impending doom or existential dread that can wash over you when reflecting on climate change and its effects. 

Why Climate Anxiety is Often Overlooked

Climate anxiety is often overlooked or brushed off. This is because it can be difficult to discuss mental health concerns because there are still stigmas surrounding mental health. Climate anxiety is also typically not taken as seriously as other anxieties or mental health issues. This is because many people do not understand the serious, detrimental impacts of climate change. 

What to do About Climate Anxiety

  1. Talk to friends and family about climate change. 

Listen to their thoughts on the matter and discuss your own thoughts. Talk about the negative impacts and grieve with them. It can be healing and helpful to share your concerns with others.  

  1. Become a part of the solution

It is important to stay informed on environmental topics and to use your knowledge for good. Join a climate justice organization at your school or in your community. Connecting with others who also care about climate change can ease your worries and fears about the Earth’s future. Climate organizations are making a difference in your community and educating others on climate change. 

An oil plant dispersing white smoke into the air.
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  1. Join protests. 

If there are protests near you, make a sign and join in. Marching with other people who care about climate injustices is empowering. Protests help spark change by informing others and raising awareness. 

  1. Do what you can to help the environment. 

It is important to do what you can to reduce your own carbon footprint, but don’t become overly consumed with it. Eat a more plant-based diet, bike or carpool when you can, and use reusable bags. But try not to worry about how each of your actions will impact the environment. Those who experience climate anxiety often feel guilty about taking part in activities that affect the environment, like driving. Just do what you can and that will be enough.

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