What Is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah/ Chanukah meaning, “to dedicate”, is also called the festival of lights. It commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple, which was the celebration of the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians. It is a Jewish festival that begins on Kislev 25, according to the Jewish/ Hebrew calendar. It is celebrated for 8 days. Hanukkah is celebrated on the same date each year based on the Hebrew calendar, but it varies in the Gregorian calendar. This year, Hanukkah is being celebrated from December 10th to December 18th.
Hanukkah is considered to be one of the most celebrated and most popular Jewish religious observances, though it isn’t a major holiday in religious terms. Since it is celebrated around the same time as Christmas, it is considered to be the Jewish alternative for Christmas.
Major Jewish holidays have restrictions on going to work, school, and other activities. But Hanukkah is a minor festival in religious terms that has no restrictions.
SIGNIFICANCE OF HANUKKAH
HISTORY OF HANUKKAH
The Holiday of Hanukkah was started by events that took place during a rough phase in Jewish History. Around 200 B.C., Antiochus III, King of Syria, took control of Judea/ Israel. He permitted the Jews to live there and practice their religion. But when his son- Antiochus IV Epiphanes- took over, he was not as kind. He stopped the Jews from practicing Jewish customs and ordered them to start worshiping Greek Gods. In 168 B.C., his soldiers massacred many hundreds of people and they put up an altar for Zeus in the city’s Second Temple.
Later, a Jewish Priest Mattathias, along with his five sons, revolted against Antiochus and his monarchy. When Mattathias passed away in 166 B.C., his son Judah Maccabee took over. In 2 years, he sent the Syrians out of Jerusalem and rebuilt the altar in the Second Temple.
HANUKKAH - MIRACLE OF THE OIL
The Talmud is one of Judaism’s most central texts. After Judah Maccabee and the other Jews helped clean up and rebuild the Second Temple, they witnessed something that they believed was a miracle. There was only enough pure olive oil to keep the menorah candles burning for one day and there was no time for the Jews to find more. But this little oil lasted eight days without the candles going off, giving them enough time to find more olive oil.
It was this event that led the Jews to celebrate for eight days each year.
The Festival of Lights is celebrated by lighting candles of the candelabrum. The candelabrum has 9 branches, called a menorah. A unique candle called the shamash (attendant in Hebrew) is placed either above or below the rest and it is used to light all the other eight candles. Each night, one candle is lit. So that by the last night of Hanukkah, all are lit. The menorah is displayed near a window or door to remind others of the miracle of the holiday.
During this Jewish festival of lights, there are several must-dos. They include playing the game of dreidel (a game where each player has to spin the dreidel during their turn and then either give or take game pieces from the pot, based on which side the dreidel stops), eating oil-based foods (like latke- a potato pancake and sufganiyah- a round jelly doughnut, are both traditional foods made especially for the festival of Hanukkah) and dairy foods. Not to forget, exchanging gifts. In the past money was given to the poor and to children, but now, the money is replaced with chocolate money that is given to kids at the Hanukkah party.
FACTS ABOUT HANUKKAH TO REMEMBER
- Hanukkah means dedication: The History of Hanukkah tells us how dedicated the Maccabees were to reclaim the Second Temple from the Syrians.
- Hanukkah lasts for eight nights: The temple required the holy light to be burning inside it at all times, but when the Jews only had enough for one night, a miracle took place and it burned for eight days. In order to commemorate the number of nights that the oil burned, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days.
- Gift-giving was not always a Hanukkah tradition: The real Hanukkah tradition was people giving each other money. But as the years went by, and Christmas became more popular, Jews started giving gifts too.
- Hanukkah dishes are fried: Hanukkah dishes like Latkes, sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts, apple fritters, and most others are fried in oil. The reason being that it signifies the miracle that took place where the oil burned for eight days straight giving the Jews time to find new oil.
- Hanukkah is not the most important Jewish holiday: Hanukkah is considered to be a minor holiday in religious terms. Other Jewish festivals like Passover and Rosh Hashanah are major and more religion-related.