When is Hanukkah this year? In 2014 — or 5775 in the Hebrew calendar — the eight days of Hanukkah begin at sunset on Dec. 16, ending as night falls on Dec. 24. Gathering with family and friends during each evening of Hanukkah should be fun and festive. However, many typical traditions and practices, from rituals to meals, present our cats with a host of novel opportunities to make mischief.
While you’re singing songs, playing games, and eating seasonal treats, your cat might be ingesting foods that they shouldn’t, knocking over carefully arranged decorations in the living room, or starting accidental conflagrations. However you observe the festival of lights, the last thing you want is for the next morning’s headline to read, “Local Cat Ruins Everything.”
Hanukkah’s most iconic tradition is the lighting of the Menorah each evening after dark. Commemorating the miraculous occurrence of a one-day supply of olive oil lasting for eight days, an additional candle is lit for each passing day. Do you place the menorah on a table, counter, or in the window? It doesn’t matter; as far as your cat is concerned, that’s eight chances to burn the house down when your attention is focused elsewhere.
Whether your menorah derives its festive glow from candles, oil, or electricity, it is certain to draw the attention of a curious cat. Consider closing your cat in a comfortable room with boxes or toys to keep him occupied during the half-hour that your candles or oil lamps are lit. If you use an electric menorah, check the integrity of the cord when you arrange it for display, and, if possible, secure it with a cord cover to prevent your cat from chewing on or unplugging it.
Do you prepare your own latkes during Hanukkah? These potato pancakes, fried or deep-fried, may be a delicious treat for humans, but fried foods are never good for cats. Cats derive most of their required nutrients from meat-based proteins, and while a plain cooked, baked, or mashed potato isn’t toxic to cats, neither do they derive much benefit from it. If your latke recipe calls for onion, garlic, or other spices, it’s best not to let your cat near it.
The same goes for Hanukkah desserts, such as sufganiyot. Just thinking of these deep-fried doughnuts, filled with sweet strawberry jelly and coated in powdered sugar, makes my mouth water. None of these ingredients are salutary to a cat’s digestive system. If you want to include your cat in your Hanukkah meals, your cat is better of sticking to a dish of his normal food.
Do you substitute chocolate coins for standard ones while the kids spin the dreidel? Chocolate is much worse for cats than fried foods or sugary pastries, so see to it that none of the foil-wrapped chocolate discs are left laying around where a cat can pry them open. The children may get hyper from the additional sweets, but it’s probably preferable to a cat vomiting in the living room from chocolate toxicity.
If you are decorating your home for Hanukkah, what your cat sees is a host of new toys, distractions, and playthings to bat around. The more agile and spry your cat is, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to display decorative items completely out of her reach, but you can see to it that they are fastened securely to walls, tables, and doors, so that they don’t come loose or fall on a playful cat simply looking for the next distraction.
Are you in the habit of setting up a Hanukkah bush or tree during the holiday season? Festooned with garlands, tinsel, or ornaments, they may brighten the room, but they are also calling to your cat’s exploratory instincts. If it is a fresh-cut plant with its base in a reservoir of water, make sure that basin is tightly sealed or covered to keep a thirsty cat from sampling it when you’re not looking or out of the house.
There is nothing I enjoy more these days than cute photos of cats wearing costumes and tiny articles of clothing during the holidays. If you are able to get your cat to sit still long enough to put a kippah on his head or drape a tallit over his shoulders for more than a few moments, it will certainly make for an entertaining family photo, but it should really only be for a few moments. The headwear and shawl are thankfully less involved and elaborate than many articles of cat clothing, so there’s little risk for entanglements or disorientation.
Do you involve your cat in your Hanukkah celebrations? Do you make special cat-appropriate treats, or have you developed family traditions that include your cats? Has your cat ever made a huge mess during your holiday celebrations or endeared herself to friends and family by meowing along with traditional songs? Share your Hanukkah memories with us in the comments and have a lovely and safe holiday season!
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