What is the celebration of Hanukkah? Let’s dig in and find out more about this holiday.
Hanukkah is a special Jewish celebration which lasts for 8 whole days!
It’s also called Chanukah. In Hebrew Chanukah means dedication.
The celebration commemorates the re-dedication of the Jewish Holy Temple in the 2nd century BC. Around this time Israel was under the rule of Syrian-Greeks.
They tried to force the people to abandon the religious beliefs they had and adopt the Greek culture and beliefs.
Judah Said No
One man decided he’d had enough and gathered together a small group to try and throw out their captors. The man was Judah the Maccabee.
The group he gathered were faithful and determined, but not very well armed. This small band went up against one of the mightiest armies at the time. And the Maccabees were victorious!
Once they had reclaimed the Holy Temple and driven the Greeks from their lands, the group went to light the Temple’s Menorah.
The menorah for Hanukkah is a nine-branch candle holder. Menorah is Hebrew for candelabra.
Judah and his men only found a small container of blessed oil. The seal was unbroken, but there was only enough oil to last one day.
The oil burned in the menorah must go through a special blessing process, and this ritual takes several days to perform.
Determined, the group used the last container of oil anyway. After all, they were victorious, and lighting the menorah in the Holy Temple was a way for these faithful people to give thanks for reclaiming their highest place of worship.
Then something miraculous happened.
The small bit of oil they had lasted for 8 whole days, which was long enough for them to prepare more oil.
In order to remember and celebrate the miracles they experienced, the leaders and sages declared this time the festival of Hanukkah. Or Chanukah.
(Both spellings are correct.)
How To Celebrate Hanukkah
Hanukkah is first and foremost a festival of lights. The lighting of the menorah is sacred.
There are spots for 8 candles, 4 on each side, and one offset in the middle or to the side.
The offset candle, called a shamash, or “attendant” is used to light the other candles during the celebration.
At dusk on the first day of Hanukkah, the attendant candle is used to light one candle on the left of the menorah. Then, each day at dusk, one more candle is lit. On the last evening, all 8 candles are lit, from left to right. The attendant candle is placed in the center.
Before the candles are lit, the people read blessings. After the lighting, they sing traditional songs.
The menorah, burning brightly, is displayed in a doorway or on a window sill.
What Else Happens During Hanukkah?
Traditional Hanukkah gifts are coins for the children.
Another special tradition during this festival is acts of charity, called tzedakah. The coins are given to the children so they can practice giving.
The children also play with a 4-sided top called a dreidel.
They spin the dreidel, which has 4 Hebrew letters, one on each side. The Hebrew letters are an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham.
Translated, it means “a great miracle happened there.”
You play the game for coins, nuts, or other small items. And it’s won or lost depending on which letter the dreidel lands.
The Food of Hanukkah
It wouldn’t be a celebration without some yummy foods to go along with it!
The festivities revolve around the miracle of the oil for the menorah. Traditionally the foods which are enjoyed are those prepared by frying in oil.
There are latkes, pancakes, and loukoumades.
The latkes were originally made with cheese, like the pancakes, and the cheese was symbolic of another important figure of the time. Her name was Judith. She made use of salty cheeses and strong wine to subdue a captor.
The latkes evolved into potato latkes, served with sour cream and applesauce. Made with grated potato, grated onion, egg, and bread crumbs to hold it all together, these crispy-outside-creamy-inside creations make a tasty side dish!
The pancakes represent the cakes which would have been hurriedly prepared for the men before they went into battle.
Some people make buckwheat pancakes, hearty and rib-sticking. Some people make them with grated cheeses. It all depends on what you fancy!
The loukoumades are fried bits of dough, filled with jam, and covered in sugar, like a jelly donut.
People also serve challah (a yummy egg bread,) beef brisket, soft pretzels which are often shaped into the Hanukkah symbols, and cream of artichoke soup.
Hanukkah celebrations begin on the 25th of Kislev on the Jewish calendar. That date can be in early November or late December, depending on how the days line up.
It’s a festival of lights, a celebration of miracles. Hanukkah is especially an important reminder that great things can be accomplished, no matter the obstacles.
You can enjoy some of the other amazing foods from Israel in our Israel box from eat2explore!