What is Hanukkah? Learn about the traditionally Jewish holiday
As we take in the endless neighborhood Christmas lights, flooded store aisles filled with familiar holiday trinkets & toys, and countless trays of gingerbread cookies & fruitcake, it’s important to also recognize a holiday that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves – Hanukkah.
So what is Hanukkah?
This special festival, which began yesterday at sundown, is an eight-day holiday that always manages to lease at the very least one shelf at the local craft store, reminding us that, while Christmastime is special, there are other important holidays out there that are also important to others, and should be celebrated as well.
What does Hanukkah celebrate?
Celebrated with a nightly candle lighting of the menorah, delicious foods, and special prayers, Hanukkah, translated in Hebrew as “dedication”, celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, taking place after the triumphant Maccabean revolt which “ended the Seleucid Empire’s colonialism overlordship of Judea & Samaria”.
When sought to dedicate the Holy Temple by lighting the temple’s menorah, the Jews could only find a single cruse of oil left behind, believed to only be a one-day supply.
Miraculously, the candle burned for eight days.
When does Hanukkah take place
Hanukkah begins on the eve of what’s known as Kislev 25, or the third month of the civil year on the Jewish calendar. Typically, this date coincides with the month of December, with Hanukkah 2020 taking place from December 10-18.
How is Hanukkah celebrated (or observed)
While the nightly menorah lighting is at the true heart of the festival, where a new candle is lit each night until all eight candles are glowing, Hanukkah also embraces the power of song & prayer, much like Christmas.
Menorahs are typically placed on either a window or a doorway.
While certain Jewish families might be more health conscious than others, there’s really no escaping the fried foods come Hanukkah, seeing as how the miracle of Hanukkah involved oil, meaning it’s customary to eat good fried foods during this holiday.
While the popular Hanukkah food is a delicious potato latke served with some sour cream & applesauce, there’s plenty of other scrumptious Hanukkah eats, including a round jelly donut dish called “sufganiyot”, as well as braided challah, and of course a warm bowl of matzo ball soup.
I’m feeling dreidel
We all know the song, right?
“I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay, and when it’s dry & ready, then dreidel I shall play!”
Why do I hear this song in the voice of Olaf the snowman from ‘Frozen’?
A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top, played during the holiday oftentimes by children. Each side of the dreidel has a letter of the Jewish alphabet: nun, gimmel, hei, shin. The letters actually are an acronym for “nes gadol hayah sham”, meaning “A great miracle happened there”.
Any number of people can join in on the fun!
To play, you must first find your currency or pieces, such as coins, nuts, gelt, chocolate, etc. To begin, everyone adds one piece in a pot, and when the pot only has a single piece left, or even empty, then every player must add another piece.
Usually going in a clockwise direction, every player spins the dreidel one-time, and depending on which side the dreidel lands on, you’ll either get nothing from the pot, half the pot, the entire pot, or you’ll have to add another piece.
The gift of gelt
The traditional Hanukkah gift is Gelt, or the gift of money, as a way to reward both good behavior throughout the year as well as their hard work & devotion towards their Torah study.
And while gift giving isn’t the center focus of Hanukkah, many Jewish families do enjoy the tradition of giving one gift on each night of the eight-nights of the festival.