Hanukah falls at the same time every year, normally overlapping with Christmas holidays. Hanukah is a time of excitement and joy between families and especially for children. There are a wide variety of traditions which include eating oily foods like doughnuts and latkes. Latkes are the Jewish version of hash browns. Lighting the Hanukiah, which is a type of candelabra is the main practice of Hanukah.
Hanukahs literal translation means ‘Dedication’ as it resembles the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem. King Antiochus was in power of the Seleucid Empire. They robbed and ransacked the temple taking everything and killed many Jews in the process. Antiochus’ army destroyed the everlasting light which burnt continuously in the temple as a symbol of the Jewish faith and people. The Jews searched the temple to find some oil to burn, but only found enough to burn for one night. They lit the oil and the miracle of Hanukah is that the oil burned for eight days.
Traditionally on Hanukah, Jewish families get together at sundown and light the Hanukiah, Candelabra. The Hanukiah has eight candles in a line and one sticking out. The candle that sticks out is called the ‘Shamash’ which is known as the service candle and is used to light all the other candles. The eight main candles represent the miracle of the oil burning for eight days. Everyday a candle is lit and by the eighth day they are all burning bright. Families make a blessing over the Hanukiah and then sing a song called ‘Mo’az tzur’ which the whole family joins in with then presents are handed out. Presents have no religious significance however, there are usually eight presents for the eight days of Hanukah. These are only small gifts for example, Hanukah Gelt which is either money (a few pennies) or chocolate money.
Like Christians have an ‘Advent calendar,’ In Israel people eat oily foods and doughnuts for up to a month before the festival begins. Another traditional food for eastern European Jews is ‘Loukoumades’ which are little balls of deep-fried puff pastry which are dipped in either honey, sugar or jam which relates to the miraculous oil and are sweet for the celebrations. Pancakes are also eaten as a reminder of the food that was hurriedly prepared by the Maccabees before they went into battle against the King’s army. Finally, Jewish children play a game with a dreidel which looks like a spinning-top. It is a type of gambling game which represents the time when Antiochus made learning Judaism and practicing Judaism illegal. It was a way to teach Jewish children how to speak and learn the Hebrew alphabet. There are four Hebrew letters on the side of the dreidel, a ‘Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin’ which stand for; ‘Nes Gadol Hayah Sham’ which translates as ‘a great miracle happened there’.
More posts like this one in About Hanukkah.