Happy Hanukkah!

“Monica, Monica, have a happy Hanukkah!” I’m a tad ashamed to say that, yes, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word Hanukkah is Phoebe’s holiday song in Friends.  I suspect that I may not be alone in my limited awareness…

Beth El Synagogue, Christchurch [1901]
Beth El Synagogue, Christchurch [1901], CCLPhotoCD 6, IMG0079
Yet Hanukkah is one of the most popular Jewish religious holidays and people with Jewish heritage have played an important role in New Zealand since the first days of European settlement.

As the book Jewish Lives in New Zealand points out, Auckland alone has had five Jewish mayors. New Zealand’s first woman doctor, Emily Siedeberg, and first woman lawyer, Ethel Benjamin, were both Jewish.  Similarly, Jewish families, like the Keesings, de Beers, Ashers, and Hallensteins, were and are still prominent in the business community.

So what is Hanukkah? Traditionally it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in 165 BCE, when, after a three-year struggle led by Judah Maccabee, the Jews in Judea defeated Antiochus IV, the Seleucid king who had invaded Judea.

The celebrations last 8 days and involve lighting candles each night in the menorah, a special eight-branched candelabrum. Scriptures are read each day and a special hymn is sung.

Cover of Jewish Holidays CookbookAnd what would  a celebration be without special food? Potato pancakes (latkes), doughnuts, and other treats fried in oil take the starring role at Hanukkah. Children receive presents and gifts of money (Hanukkah gelt), which may be the real thing or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.

Today is the last day of Hanukkah for 2015, so Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating!

If you do observe Hanukkah, why not share some of your family’s traditions?

The Best Kids & YA books of 2015

Cover of The princess and the ponyAs a librarian with a passion for children’s literature I read nothing but books for kids and teens all year long. I visit schools around the city to promote great new reads for kids so I always have to keep up-to-date with the new and exciting books we get in at the library.

I have read a lot of great books for kids and teens this year, from picture books to novels and nonfiction. As always, I borrow more than I can read, but there are so many books that I want to read. Picture books, at least, are easy to read and you can read them again and again.

Each year we put together our Holiday Reading Guide, which includes the best books of the year selected by librarians across all our libraries. Our 2015 Holiday Reading Guide is out now. It includes:

If you’re looking for some great books to read over the summer, make sure you check out the 2015 Holiday Reading Guide.

Here are some of my favourite books of 2015 from the Holiday Reading Guide:

Picture Books

  • Cover of Piranhas don't eat bananasPiranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey – Aaron Blabey is my top author/illustrator of the year. He has published 6 books in 2015 and they’re all brilliant. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is the story of Brian, a Piranha who should like meat but much prefers fruit and veges. His friends aren’t happy and try to put him on the right track. He tries to persuade them that ‘fruit is the best’ but they would rather eat feet, knees and bums. This is a hilarious read that has kids and adults cracking up.
  • The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton –  Princess Pinecone wants to be a warrior and she needs a big, strong, fast horse to help her. Her parents don’t get her wishes quite right and she ends up with a short, fat little pony that farts a lot. This little pony might not be what she asked for but together they become a great team, and help the meanest warriors show their cuddly sides.

Younger Fiction

  • Cover of Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-PigThe Shark-Headed Bear-Thing by Barry Hutchison – Ben just wants to have an adventure and be a hero. When a girl called Paradise turns up in his village seeking a hero to save her village from a rampaging monster, Ben knows he’s the hero for the job. A very funny adventure story, featuring the greatest game ever invented – Burp or Death!
  • Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig by Polly Faber and Clare Vulliamy –  A charming collection of four beautifully illustrated stories about the unlikely friendship between Mango, a little girl, and Bambang, a Malaysian tapir. Mango Allsorts is good at all sorts of things, not just karate and chess. Bambang is most definitely not-a-pig and is now lost in a very busy city. When the two unexpectedly meet, a friendship begins, filled with adventures, and of course, plenty of banana pancakes.

Older Fiction

  • Cover of Olive of GrovesOlive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad – an enchanting, entertaining and incredibly funny book, packed with imagination. Olive is sent to Mrs Groves Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers, where the headmistress is bonkers, the school bully is a pig, boys blow up broccoli with dynamite, and she meets plenty of colourful characters. This is my book of the year.
  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick – The latest amazing book from the very talented Brian Selznick, told partly through illustration and partly through text. The first 400 or so pages of the story are told just through illustration and introduce us to the Marvels. The second part of the book tells the story of Joseph and his search for the truth of his family and his connection to the Marvels. A true masterpiece.

Young Adult Fiction

  • Cover of Because You'll never meet meThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness – This beautiful, funny, moving novel looks at those who aren’t the ‘chosen ones.’  Mikey and his friends are the chosen ones. They just want to go to prom and graduate without their school being blown up again. They are navigating everyday life in their town, while the Indie kids are battling the Court of the Immortals.
  • Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas – Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie has a life-threatening allergy to electricity, and Moritz’s weak heart requires a pacemaker. If they ever did meet, they could both die. Living as recluses from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times. The story is original and intriguing and the characters are two of the most interesting teenage guys you’ll ever meet.

Te Kupu o Te Wiki – Koti (coat)

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori we are publishing weekly kupu (words) and phrases that can be used with children.

Kīwaha (idiom)

He mōhio anō te mōhio.
Knowing it is one thing, doing it is another.

Kupu (word)


Kei hea tō koti?
Where is your coat?

Whāngahia te Reo

This week in Christchurch history (14 to 20 December)

15 December 1848
Captain Joseph Thomas, William Fox, and surveyors Cass and Torlesse arrive at the site of Lyttelton in the “Fly”. Thomas names the harbour “Port Victoria”. He and his party had been sent by the Canterbury Association to choose a site for the new colony and make the necessary preparations for the arrival of settlers in 1850.

Ad on Papers Past
Advertisement of the laying of the Chief Corner Stone of the Cathedral, Lyttelton Times, 10 December 1864, Page 6

16 December 1850
“Charlotte Jane” and “Randolph” arrive at Lyttelton.

16 December 1851
Anniversary celebrations in Hagley Park. First organised sport, including horse races, athletics and a cricket match.

16 December 1864
150 years ago the foundation stone was laid for ChristChurch Cathedral. The weather was atrocious.

17 December 1850
“Sir George Seymour” arrives.

17 December 1935
City Council decides to buy 230 hectares of land at Harewood for a city airport. The purchase was strongly criticised in many quarters as excessively large, but subsequent history has more than vindicated the decision.

20 December 1955
First Antarctic flights by USN Operation Deep Freeze from Christchurch. Browse our page on Antarctica and its Christchurch connections.

More December events in the Christchurch chronology: a timeline of Christchurch events in chronological order from pre-European times to 1989.