Hanukkah Traditions

Hanukkah Traditions

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
  1. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a holiday which occurs any time between the end of November and the end of December. This is because the holiday does not follow the Roman calendar but follows the Hebrew calendar, a lunar calendar, which allows for the difference in dates.

    There are about ten ways to spell Hanukkah in English, and none of them is wrong. It can be spelled with a C (as in Channukah), with single or double "n’s" or "k’s" or sometimes without an "h" at the end.

    Hanukkah’s Status as a Minor Holiday

    Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday but because it occurs near Christmas, it has been elevated to major status, although not necessarily with rabbis or religious Jewish people. Nevertheless, many Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah with as much vigor as people celebrate Christmas, even though its origins are completely different.

    Hanukkah actually starts the night before it is listed on regular monthly calendars. Almost all Jewish holidays start the night before, so if the calendar lists the holiday as starting on a Wednesday, the holiday actually starts Tuesday night. That is when the first candle is lit, along with the shamash, which is the center candle. A menorah, which is a candle holder used for Hanukkah, is displayed on Hanukkah. Each night an additional candle is lit. On the first night, the shamash, the center candle which lights the other candles, is lit along with the first candle on the right side of the menorah. On the second night, the shamash is lit along with two candles placed on the right side of the menorah. This continues for all eight days of Hanukkah.

    The menorah, which used to be lit with oil instead of candles, represents the underlying story of Hanukkah.

    The Origins of Hanukkah

    The story of Hanukkah goes back to the second century B.C. and the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. Before the rededication, Greek and Syrian soldiers seized the temple. The practice of Judaism was outlawed, and Jews were ordered to worship Greek gods. Practicing Judaism was punishable by death.

    The Maccabees, the name for Jewish rebels, fought to regain their temple. In the meantime, the Greeks were using the temple for sacrificing swine and for worshipping their gods. This destroyed and desecrated the temple in the eyes of the Maccabees. The Maccabees fought against the Syrians and Greeks, eventually becoming victorious. Their next step was to take back the temple.

    To celebrate their victory, the Maccabees cleaned the temple to purify it and wanted to celebrate by burning olive oil in the temple’s menorah. As the story goes, there was only enough oil to celebrate for one day, yet miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This created the eight day festival of Hanukkah, which celebrates the miracle of the Maccabees’ victory and the oil lasting for eight days.

    Special Hanukkah Traditions

    To this day, Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah by lighting the menorah for eight days, with the first candle and shamash lit on the first night. Menorahs today are traditional old-fashioned candelabras for nine candles (the shamash is always lit each night, and thus the need for nine candles) or more contemporary designs. You can purchase a menorah with a sports, music, nursery rhyme, crystal, or modern art motif, to name a few. There are menorahs in every shape and size, and so long as they contain nine candle holders and are not offensive, they are permitted. There are even electric menorahs, which are also allowed. The largest menorah in the world is in New York City, and there is a special lighting ceremony usually on the first day of Hanukkah.

    Hanukkah traditions also include eating certain foods, like potato pancakes, called latkes, which are fried. Jewish people usually eat the latkes with applesauce. Another tradition is for the children to eat Hanukkah “gelt” or chocolate candy in the shape of coins. Fried jelly doughnuts are also a traditional food for Hanukkah.

    Other traditions are decorating the house for Hanukkah, which is usually very simple and may only be placing a menorah in the kitchen or an electric menorah in the window. Other people decorate the house with signs, dinnerware and pillows of all sizes wishing viewers a “Happy Hanukkah,” or by displaying menorah or other Hanukkah designs.

    Children and sometimes adults play the game of spinning the dreidel on Hanukkah. A dreidel is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters painted on each side. Each letter has a certain meaning. Money, usually pennies, is placed in the center of a table. People take turns spinning the dreidel. Depending on what the dreidel lands on, the person either gets nothing from the “pot,” has to add to it, takes all of it, or takes half of it. The game can also be played with chocolate coins or “gelt.”

    Gift Giving

    It became a tradition to exchange a small gift during Hanukkah. Some Jewish families exchange larger gifts. In some households, gifts are exchanged for all eight days of Hanukkah. In other households, gifts are exchanged only on the first night of Hanukkah. Either practice is acceptable.

    Hanukkah is a joyous holiday, and the holiday is celebrated often with extended family members.

Leave a Reply