Walking around a residential neighborhood on a winter’s night can be lonely experience. The streets are dark and desolate. Passers-by become anonymous and the sound of their footsteps intimidating. I usually walk at a fast pace, every fiber of my being intent on escaping the gloom.
On a recent visit to Copenhagen, I found myself cutting through a residential neighborhood, on foot, at night, on my way to the buzzier Nyhavn district. As I was walking, I noticed my pace was unusually relaxed. I felt a sense of warmth and coziness, which the locals call hygge. From every house and building on the street, large windows cast a golden glow. I was out on a dark street, but my gaze was drawn into luminous homes, where I could see individuals at work, children at play and families gathering to eat.
I found the windows of Copenhagen unusual, because as a Londoner, I am used to seeing homes with all curtains drawn, barely a blade of light escaping from the edge of a blind. Keeping their windows unscreened, the Danes projected a friendly warmth into the street, uncloaking the heavy darkness, and offsetting the loneliness of my journey.
Hanukkah is a time for pulling back the curtains and setting lights at the window specifically dedicated to illuminating the outside. Now, in the final hours of Hanukkah, having watched all eight flames burn brightly at my window, I am considering how the Hanukkah lights can continue to transform the blackness outside, beyond the eight day. When stepping into the warmth and light of our own homes, we can quickly forget about the darkness and loneliness experienced by many. We draw the curtains and keep it out of sight, out of mind.
But what if, at the end of Hanukkah we hold off on drawing back the curtains?
Let our home shed light and warmth and transform the gloominess of our streets. Enjoying the coziness of our home, let’s keep a window clear and unshuttered, as a reminder to look out for those experiencing loneliness and isolation through transition, anxiety and uncertainty. The talmudic formulation of the mitzvah of Hanukkah as נר איש וביתו ‘a candle for each person and their home’ (Shabbat 21b) suggests the home as a particular anchor for our capacity to brighten the outside and light up the lives of others. So, as Hanukkah draws to a close, let’s take inspiration from the windows of Copenhagen. Let’s radiate light through our homes, practicing our own form of hygge, spreading warmth, comfort, and encouragement.