Hanukkah – The Jeweish Festival of Lights

Hanukkah is a holiday which is observed by the Jews. It is also Romanized as ‘Chanukah’. This festival is also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’. It is celebrated for eight days and nights. It commences on 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the Gregorian calendar. Main attractions of Hanukkah are lighting the Menorah, spinning the driedel and feasting and saying grace with your friends and family.

The Hebrew word ‘Hanaukkah’ means ‘dedication’. By this name, we are reminded about the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. This festival honors the re-dedication of the holy Temple by the great Judas McCabe in 165 BC.

Origin of this festival is traced from the time when the king Antiochus expelled Jewish rituals and decreed all Jews to worship Greek Gods. The holy Temple of Menorah (candelabra) in Jerusalem was in devastating state under the Greeks. There was constant insurgence by Jews against the antagonism of Greek King and his atrocities.

When a Jewish Head Priest called Mattathias killed a General, revolt burst in Median village. Mattathias’ sons with villagers killed the General’s soldiers. Mattathias with his family and other Jews hid in mountains. Later, they conquered the Greeks and decided to sanctify the Temple which was defiled by worshipping foreign gods and sacrificing swine. When they moved to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days, they discovered that only one day’s worth of oil was left there to fuel the flame. But the oil miraculously burned for eight days till fresh olive oil was sanctified. Thus, the festival commemorates the ‘miracle of the container of oil’.

Martyrdom of Hanna and her seven sons is also associated to Hanukkah. They were executed for not eating pork which would have violated the Jewish law.

Unique Hanukkah traditions are observed by every community but some traditions are practiced almost universally. These traditions are lighting the Menorah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods. These days Hanukkah has gained immense popularity because of being closed to the season of Christmas.

Menorah is a nine branched candelabrum, which is kindled every night of the occasion, progressing to eight on the final night. Shamash is an extra light which is also lit each night to light other candles.

Spinning the dreidel is a famous Hanukkah game. Dreidel is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side. Flavorful part of this game are ‘Gelt’, which are chocolate coins wrapped in tin foil. Jewish children get gifts for Hanukkah. Often they enjoy receiving one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday.

It is an age old tradition to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the Hanukkah holiday. Latkes are pancakes made with potatoes and onions. They are fried in oil and then served with delicious applesauce. Sufganiyot (its singular is sufganiyah) are jelly-filled donuts. The reason for eating fried foods during this holiday is that Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil.

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