Winter Blogfest: Chanukah by Tess Bowery

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win An e-book copy of She Whom I Love, the author’s newest release — coming out December 29, 2015. Regency polyamory set against the background of the 19th century theatre.


We all know the signs of the Christmas season—starting before Hallowe’en, nowadays! There’s cinnamon and mint in the air, tinsel and snowflakes on everything, and if you have school-age children, you’ll be picking glitter snow out of your carpets until May. But what about one of the other holidays of the season, that ‘other one’ that gets a couple of nods in modern Christmas specials, and maybe a reference to candle-lighting if we’re lucky? What do we do with Jewish characters in December?

The first thing to note is that Chanukah has nothing at all to do with Christmas. It’s a minor, non-biblical holiday that celebrates a military victory in 160 BCE. The Book of Maccabees tells the full story, but the short form goes something like this: The Greeks had invaded the land of Israel, and were opposed by a small group of guerrilla fighters. That band of rebels managed to drive back the much larger military force, restoring their independence—and more importantly, freedom of religion—in the region.

To commemorate that victory, and the miracle of a jar of oil that burned for eight days, Jews worldwide celebrate an eight-day festival that falls somewhere between the end of November and the last week of December each year. (The dates move due to the lunar calendar.)

Some of the more familiar symbols are a nine-branch candelabra, fried potato pancakes, piles of gifts and a spinning four-sided top marked with Hebrew letters. But did you know that the latkes are only the beginning? Because the second miracle of Chanukah was the eight-day light, the tradition is to eat multiple types of fried foods. Jelly doughnuts called sufganiot (soof-gan-ee-oht) are a mainstay at every Chanukah party, alongside the apple sauce and sour cream to be piled on top of the latkes.

The dreidel, or spinning top, has significance deeper than simply being a child’s toy. During the occupation of the Holy Land, the resident Jews were forbidden to practice their faith. Secret study groups would meet in the caves and in back rooms, and mnemonic devices like the letters on the tops were used instead of notes on scrolls or tablets, which could be easily intercepted by the enemy.

And while everyone knows ‘I Had A Little Dreidel’ from school concerts past, the wealth of modern and traditional tunes alike make this one something of a lazy choice. Exploring the realms of contemporary Jewish music on sites like YouTube can introduce you—and by extension, your characters—to amazing new sounds. Acappella groups are experiencing a resurgence in popularity in the Jewish music-o-sphere—I’d recommend Six13 and the Maccabeats as the best starting places—while the Orthodox Jewish reggae artist Matisyahu began a whole new genre of religious-modern Jewish music.

Gifts are a modern addition to the holiday, thanks to Chanukah’s calendar proximity to Christmas. Most families only give gifts to children under twelve, and even then the gifts are small. The traditional gift used to be small sums of money, and that tradition is carried on today in the use of chocolate coins, or ‘gelt.’

The modern celebration of Chanukah is a joyous one, but not a pious one. There’s little religious significance to the holiday, but a tremendous amount of joy, pride and family togetherness. Writers need to look beyond the mistaken idea of “Jewish Christmas” and embrace the opportunity for story-telling that Chanukah gives us.

Energetic music and latke fry-ups, neighborhood parties and public channukiah-lighting ceremonies keep the festival of lights evolving, exciting, and fresh, for Jewish characters, writers and most importantly, readers, alike.

SheWhomILove300Love would be simpler if it came with a script.

Marguerite Ceniza dies on the London stage each night, but her own life has barely begun. The ingénue is on the prowl for a lover, but while she burns with desire for Sophie, a confession could ruin their decade-long friendship. In the meantime there are always men vying to be her patron, and square-jawed, broad-shouldered James Glover can’t help but catch her eye.

Sophie Armand has been a lady’s maid for too long, and she’s sick of keeping secrets. Her hidden scripts and the story of her birth are only the beginning. Her nights are haunted by desperate thoughts of the beguiling Marguerite, and of James, the handsome tradesman who whispers promises of forever into her ear.

James has the kind of problem a lot of men would kill for—two women, both beautiful, both sensual, and both willing. Sophie wants marriage, while Marguerite’s only in it for fun, and choosing between them isn’t easy.

What’s the worst that could happen if he secretly courts them both?

Their romantic triangle is complicated in the most delicious way, until a shadowy figure from Marguerite’s past threatens to destroy the budding relationship—and their lives.

Product Warnings: Contains a lady’s maid with secret desires, a corset-maker who knows his way around a woman’s body, and an actress who never has to fake it. Rated for adult audiences only.

About the Author: Tess Bowery lives near the ocean, which sounds lovely, except when it snows. An historian by training and a theater person by passion, she’s parleyed her Masters degree in English history into something that would give her former professors something of a surprise.

Her love for the Regency era began as they always do, with Jane Austen, and took a sharp left turn into LBGT biographies and microhistory. Now she indulges in both of her passions, telling the stories of her community in the time periods that fire the human imagination. Her first foray into contemporary M/M fiction, High Contrast, releases in 2016.

Along with writing, Tess splits her time between teaching, backstage work, LBGT activism and her family. She spends far too much money on comic books, loves superheroes and ghost stories, and still can’t figure out how to use Twitter properly.

Website | Blog | Twitter

Buy the book at Amazon.


  1. Very interesting post, enjoyed reading it and learning about the traditions.

  2. Thanks for your informative post about Chanukah. I love laktes with sour cream. I never knew about sufganoits until your post.

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