Hanukkah, or more correctly Chanukkah, is an eight day festival celebrated by those of the Jewish faith during the month of December. It has no relation to Christmas or Santa Clause (which is fitting since Jews aren’t Christians and Santa Clause doesn’t particularly belong to any religion.) Chanukkah is a festival of lights that usually involves some light gift giving, although some families have expanded the gift giving aspect to fit the generosity of the overall Holiday
Origins of Chanukkah
The eight day festival is based on ancient Jewish history. There was a time in Greece, where the Greek leader began to persecute the Jews. He ordered the Jewish temple to be desecrated, which means dishonored. His orders were followed and the Jews fought back to protect their temple, their rights and their faith.
When they finally won the fight, the Jews had to rededicate their temple. According to the Talmud, which is the Jewish religious book (similar to the Bible or Koran), there was almost no oil left to light the menorah, or candelabrum (a candle stick that holds multiple candles.) Miraculously, they poured in as much oil as they had, and instead of lasting only one day, the oil lasted eight days and nights – enough time to prepare a new batch of oil. The candle was symbolic and holy, by the way, not just a source of light.
To celebrate the miracle of the oil lasting through the rededication when it should have been long gone after only a few hours, an eight day festival was established. Today we call this festival Chanukkah, or Hanukkah.
Chanukkah is actually a pretty unimportant holiday for the Jewish faith. It isn’t even mentioned in the Jewish scripture. But because it is so close to Christmas and the gift giving that occurs among families celebrating that holiday
, gifts have been included for children, and the festival is celebrated on a grander scale.
To celebrate Hanukkah, the menorah, or candelabrum is used to symbolize the eight days and nights. There are actually nine candle on the menorah. The middle one, which is higher, is the service candle used to light the other eight. Each night for eight nights a candle is placed in the menorah starting with the right and moving left. (Candles are lit from left to right, though.) By the eighth night, all nine candles are burning on the menorah. The candle ceremony is complete with the reciting of specific prayers.
The food during Hanukkah is often fried as this is a continued celebration of the miraculous oil. Traditional foods at Hanukkah include latkes, which are potato pancakes. Many other foods are present, but all foods must be kosher, or clean and fit, by Jewish standards. Pork, for example, is not kosher.
Presents have been added to Hanukkah to help with any jealousy children might feel toward their friends at Christmas time. The presents are not necessarily an actual part of the true festival. In many households, the presents are spread out over the eight days of the festival, which can make the whole process more drawn out and exciting, at least in my humble opinion.
One other tradition at Hanukkah that is relatively well-known is the dreidel. The dreidel is a top that has four Hebrew symbols on the sides. It is spun as part of a gambling game, although money is almost never used. Instead, children play dreidel games with fake gold coins, chocolate or even paper money.
This year, Channukah will be from sunset December 4, 2007 through nightfall December 12, 2007.