What is Hanukkah?
What is Hanukkah? It’s a question many of us who happen to not be Jewish are asking around this time of year, especially since the holiday is getting ready to kick off. Hanukkah officially starts at sunset tonight and will run through December 5, so it’s time we answered a few questions about Hanukkah.
Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an eight day celebration of the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. It all began in 168 B.C. when Syrian-Greek soldiers took control of the temple, defiling it with pagan idols and making any observance of Judaism in the region a crime punishable by death.
Of course this didn’t sit well with the mainly Jewish population, so when the Syrian-Greek soldiers attempted to force them to worship their false idols, the Jews rose up and after years of fighting managed to retake the Holy Temple. But by the time they returned to the temple it had been spiritually defiled in their eyes.
So in order to purify and rededicate the Temple, the Jews would burn a ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But when they went to light the oil they discovered that there was only enough to burn for one day. This is where the miracle of Hanukkah takes place.
The Jews decided to rely on their faith and light the menorah anyway and to their surprise, the oil lasted the full eight days. So now, on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev (which usually falls between late November and late December), Hanukkah is celebrated over eight nights by lighting an additional candle on the menorah each night.
Hanukkah may be one of the least important holidays in Jewish law, but thanks to its closeness to Christmas it has become a much more festive celebration with kids usually receiving a present each night of Hanukkah as parents try to make sure their kids don’t feel left out of the Christmas celebrations.
Other than gift giving, how can you celebrate Hanukkah? Well first you’ll need your menorah in order to light your candles, the center of the whole celebration. And of course don’t forget to spin that dreidel!
This four sided top is marked with the Hebrew letters נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hay) and פ (Pey), which stand for “Nes gadol haya po,” a great miracle occurred here, and is used in a game played by anyone who wishes to join in. You can check out all the rules right here.
The key to any great holiday is great food and Hanukkah is no exception. The holiday is usually celebrated by eating foods fried in oil such as latkes (pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, fried in oil and then served with applesauce) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar).
You can check out a list of Hanukkah foods with easy to follow recipes here.
So now you know all about Hanukkah and can celebrate with your friends if you so wish. But no matter what kind of holidays you decide to celebrate, take a minute to remember what the whole holiday season (Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) is all about; family, friends and giving thanks for everything you have.
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