“Hanukkah Sameach!”

Around the world, people are celebrating Chanukkah, which started on December 10. How much do you know about the celebration of lights? Let’s #BeFestive and take a look at some of the history, traditions, and foods of this special celebration!

What is Chanukkah?

It is an eight-day celebration of lights that occurs annually in November or December.  It commemorates the victorious Jewish nation of Israel over their defeat of the joint Syrian-Greek armies, led by Judah and his Maccabees. Their miraculous fight for religious freedom culminated in a rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and a relighting of the holy menorah.

The celebration lasts eight days because when they needed holy pure oil for the menorah, only one small jug could be found—but the oil miraculously lasted eight days— just enough time to make a new batch!

What is a Menorah?

After the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., the rabbis decreed that the celebration henceforth will be observed in one's home.

An important part of the celebration is the menorah. Each night a candle is lit on the nine-branched candelabrum in a window that faces the street to demonstrates that "holiness increases" throughout the festival. But if there are eight nights, why are there nine candles? The extra candle is called the Shamash, or leader/helper, which is used to light the other candles to demonstrate that when we share light with one another, one's own light does not decrease. Check out books about the menorah. 

 

 

What Are Some Traditional Foods?

What foods are used to celebrate Chanukkah? The three most popular foods are latkes, which are potato pancakes fried in oil; sufganiyot, which are fried jelly-filled donuts, a delicacy in Israel; and blintzes, which are fried wontons or crepe-like foods filled with cottage cheese.

Why cheese? To commemorate the heroine, Judith, daughter of Yochanan the high priest. Judith fed the commander of the Syrian-Greek army, Holofernes, cheese, and wine. After he fell asleep, she used his own sword to make sure he couldn’t hurt anyone anymore! Both Judah and Judith were heroes of the Chanukkah story.

Try out some traditional recipes!

 

What is a Dreidel?

It’s a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. They form an acronym for the Hebrew saying “Nes Gadol Hayah Poh,” which translates to "a great miracle happened here," referring to the miracle which Chanukkah is centered around.

Fun Fact: Dreidels manufactured outside of Israel say “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” which translates "A Great Miracle Happened There," referring to the Holy Land.

During the time of the Macabees, when Jewish children were forbidden from studying Torah, they would defy the decree and study anyway using the dreidel as a decoy. When officials would come close, they would put away their books and take out spinning tops, pretending to simply be playing a game. How clever!