Hanukkah - The Festival of Lights

Hanukkah is a yearly commemoration for the Jews. The “Festival of Lights” remembers the day the Jews won back their temple from the Greeks more than 2000 years ago.

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday also known as the “Festival of Lights.” The word Hanukkah is Hebrew for “dedication” commemorating the re-dedication of the Temple of the Jews in 165 B.C.E.

The Origins of Hanukkah

Hanukkah is celebrated in December on the western calendar and Kislev 25 on the Jewish calendar. The celebration lasts for eight days, symbolizing the eight days the oil lamp burned in what is known as “the miracle of the container oil.” Syrian-Greeks led by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes seized the Jewish temple in 168 B.C.E and made observance of Judaism a crime punishable by death. They also desecrated the temple by dedicating it to Zeus. Judah Maccabee organized a revolt and reclaimed the temple. Upon reclaiming it, they decided to light the menorah, which was supposed to be lighted without interruption. However, there was only enough olive oil to make the menorah burn for a day. Miraculously the oil kept the light burning for eight days. This is the origin of lighting a candle on the menorah each night during Hanukkah.

A Light for Each Night

A traditional menorah has seven branches; but the Hanukkah menorah has nine branches to symbolize eight days and one called the Shamash, which means ‘guard’, or ‘servant.’ The Shamash is traditionally lit first and used to light the rest of the candles. One candle is lit nightly by the Shamash and the flames usually burn for an hour and a half. While lighting the candles, the song, which tells the Hanukkah story, the Hanerot Halalu, is sung. Ma’oz Tzur, “Rock of Ages” is sung after the lighting. Electric lights may be used if real flames are not an option.

Hanukkah for Children

Children play with a four-sided spinning top called the dreidel on Hanukkah. Each side is printed with the starting letters of the phrase Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means “A Great Miracle Happened There,” referring to the miracle of the container oil. Players start out with coins they place in a pot and spin the top to determine whether they give up coins or keep them. The game ends when a player has won everything. Small amounts of money called the Hanukkah gelt are given out to children during Hanukkah. Candy-makers have even created chocolate gelt. Chocolate gelt is also by children for playing dreidel. Gelt translates to “money” in Yiddish.

Traditional Hanukkah Food

Children as well as adults also look forward to eating traditional Hanukkah food. Latkes are potato pancakes fried in deep oil and often prepared with sweet cream cheese. Donuts filled with different flavored sweet jams and sprinkled with powdered sugar are called sufganiyot. Cheese is significant to this occasion and is a commemoration of the triumph of Judith over the cruel general Holofernes. Judith, a widow, saved her city by meeting up with the general who was smitten with her. She fed him cheese and wine; and as he fell asleep in her arms, Judith cut off his head. The soldiers upon seeing the body of their general fled in fear. This explains the custom of eating cheese and dairy during the holiday.

One Comment about “Hanukkah - The Festival of Lights”

  1. dan Says:

    Learn exciting facts about Hanukah: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah

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