“Eight crazy nights.” That’s how Adam Sandler summed up Hanukkah in his classic holiday song. When it comes to seasonal holidays, Christmas traditions aren’t the only ones being celebrated. In December, all around the globe, Jewish families will gather around their menorahs to relive an amazing chapter in their history and share in traditions that have been handed down through the generations. If you’re not familiar with this wonderful holiday, then we’ve got a perfect primer for you. To tell the story of Hanukkah, you have to go back a few years.
According to Jewish history, around 168 B.C., Judea was attacked by the neighboring Syrians. The Syrian army swept in and took over the land and the temples turning them into altars for Zeus. After two years of this oppressive rule, the Jewish people revolted. They were led by Judah Maccabbe, nicknamed “The Hammer.” If you’re going to take part in a revolt, then you definitely want to follow someone called “The Hammer.”
Judah’s efforts worked and they drove the Syrians back to Syria. Now they had to clean up the temple and make it ready for their ceremonies. Part of those ceremonies involved lighting the gold candelabrum known as the menorah. Sadly, they only had enough oil for one day… or so they thought. Instead, the menorah burned bright for eight days. From that moment forth, the eight-day celebration known as Hanukkah or “the festival of lights” was born.
The Hanukkah Traditions
On each night of Hanukkah, a new candle is lit using the Shamash or helper candle. In all, there will be nine candles burning at the end of Hanukkah. The menorahs used by families around the dinner table will have candles but the window displays can be electric. Many Jewish families will display a version of their menorah in the window of their home. This is to serve as inspiration for the miracle that started this holiday. Sounds a lot like Christmas lights.
Traditional foods for the Hanukkah celebration are those fried in oil. Among the most popular dishes are latkes or potato pancakes and sufganiyot, which are jam-filled donuts. There is also the ceremonial spinning of the dreidel. That is a four-sided top inscribed with the Hebrews letters that symbolize the saying, “a great miracle happened here.” Depending on which side of the dreidel you land on, you can win a big pot, half a pot, no pot or you need to add to the pot. What’s in the “pot” depends on who is playing. It could be money or chocolate or some of those awesome latkes!
All Those Presents
As with Christmas, folks celebrating Hanukkah also exchange gifts. However, the gift giving can stretch out over all of the eight nights. Unlike Christmas, there is no national day off for Hanukkah and the kids still have to go to school. Many interfaith families celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. That is truly an abundance of riches! If you celebrate Hanukkah, then may your menorah burn bright and may your dreidel always come up gimmel!