POLK COUNTY -- Francine Shetterly said it was aroma of olive oil, wafting from the kitchen of her family's home in Chicago's predominantly Jewish Highland Park suburb, that heralded the start of Hanukkah during her childhood.
"I remember the smell of the latkes cooking in the oil," said the Dallas resident, referring to the potato pancakes traditionally served during the holiday.
"My mother would make them and my father would steal them off the plate just as soon as they came out of the pan."
Francine, the wife of Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development Director Lane Shetterly, said that's still a sign of the season for her own family.
Another is the barrage of questions she and her two children get from non-Jewish friends.
Joel Shetterly, Francine's son, believes he's one of three Jewish students at Dallas High School. As such, he said he's often called on by classmates for insight.
"People ask 'So is Hanukkah like the Jewish Christmas?'" Joel, 15, said. "'Is it something you made up because otherwise you'd get no gifts?'
"That's actually one of my favorite parts, though, giving them background," he said. "Even though it's a minor holiday, Hanukkah's a lot of fun."
The Shetterlys and other Jews living in Polk County are celebrating the final days of Hanukkah this week. It began at sundown Dec. 7 and Dec. 13. Lumped into the frenzied Christmas shopping season, the holiday is grounded as a time for reflection on faith and family.
"I see it as low key," Francine Shetterly said. "I like the family being together, lighting the candle, and enjoying a good meal."
Hanukkah originated in 167 B.C., when a group of nationalistic Jews, the Maccabees, overthrew their Greek oppressors, who had desecrated their sacred temple.
It commemorates the "miracle of the oil." When the Jews rededicated the temple, there was only enough to fuel the eternal flame for one day. Somehow, it lasted eight.
As part of the religious observance, eight of the nine candles on a Menorah are lit each night of the holiday before dinner. The taller middle -- or shammus -- candle is used to light the others.
"One part of the message of Hanukkah is religious freedom," Francine said.
Hanukkah starts on the 25th day of the Jewish month Kislev, which ends two weeks from Christmas this year. For mixed-faith families like the Guralnicks in Monmouth, who practice both holidays, the timing is perfect.
Joan Guralnick is Catholic. Her husband, Lonnie, is Jewish. The couple raises their children within the Jewish faith.
"We do purchase a tree, but we try to keep the holidays separate if we can," Joan said. "When the Jewish calendar cooperates like it does this time, we wait until after Hanukkah to put up our Christmas tree."
Outside of West Salem, Polk County's Jewish contingent is quite small. With no local synagogues, most families attend Temple Beth Shalom in Salem or are members of the Beit Am Jewish Community in Corvallis.
Joan and Lonnie Guralnick often visit local elementary schools in December to teach children about Hanukkah traditions, such as the post-candle lighting blessings and the dreidel, the decorative top used for games of chance. Joan brings peanuts for the wagers.
"The kids always ask if they can keep the nuts they were gambling for," Joan said.
As holidays go, Hanukkah is only a minor event in the Jewish faith compared to Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashana. Most of its attention derives from sharing the same month as Christmas.
Because Lane Shetterly is a Lutheran, the Shetterlys also celebrate Christmas. Francine said December sometimes seems a little "overwhelming."
"The entire month basically seems like one big holiday," she said.
The gift-giving custom is considered a more modern Hanukkah practice for Jews living in the United States. The Shetterlys hand out presents each of the eight nights, which makes it seem like their children are making off with a major haul.
Francine Shetterly said it's no more than what most people offer up on Christmas morning; it's just spread out over a longer period of time.
Joel Shetterly received a new computer on the first night.
"I guess everything afterward is going to be a let down from there," he said, jokingly.