Hanukkah, sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday which probably dates back to the time of the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century BCE. During this period of time, the Jews regained religious freedom in the land of Israel. Hanukkah marks this victory and celebrates the miracle of a single cruse of oil that lit the menorah for eight days instead of one.
The Rituals of Hanukkah
Hanukkah is celebrated with several rituals and practices which are meant to encourage adherents to practice their faith, recall the miracle of the day and contribute to the unity of the Jewish people. On each day of Hanukkah, the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah (or, in Hebrew, the chanukiah) is a central ritual. On the first night, one candle is lit. Subsequently, an additional candle is added. A set of prayers are then solemnly recited. The lighting of the menorah should take place in a visible place, with onlookers.
In addition to the lighting of the menorah, Hanukkah is often celebrated by playing the traditional game of dreidel. This gambling game is religiously associated with the miracle of Hanukkah and the Jewish people’s miraculous victory. The four sided top, usually made of wood or pottery, is inscribed with the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimmel, Hei and Shin. These letters form the acronym _Nes Gadol Haya Sham_ which translates as “A great miracle happened there”. On each side of the dreidel, a different detail of the miracle of Hanukkah is represented.
Just like most other holidays, Hanukkah is often celebrated with obligatory gifts as well. Gifts that usually accompany this festival include the shaking of the draydel, eating of seasonal foods like latkes, and exchanging presents. The exchanging of presents is generally limited to family members, and close friends of the family. It is also customary for adults to give presents of money, known as Hanukkah gelt, to their children.
It is also customary for Jewish communities to get together and join in public celebration of Hanukkah. This might involve:
- Parades: Parades are often seen in large vibrant cities, usually during the afternoon. The parade will usually make its way from a synagogue’s house of worship to a park or central square of the city.
- Public Menorah Lightings: Throughout Hanukkah, public Menorahs are usually lit in centers of Jewish population. The candle with which the Menorah is lit is placed in a large makeshift Menorah, with each successive night seeing an additional candle placed.
- Raffles: In lieu of traditional gift-giving, some families gather around a table ordered in the shape of a dreidel, laiden with presents. Everyone takes turns spinning the Dreidel. Each side of the Dreidel is said to have a different meaning, and whichever side it lands on determines which gifts the spinner gets.
In conclusion, Hanukkah is a joyous occasion of religious and national liberation. Beyond its religious significance, the holiday is also seen as an excuse for good food, fun games, and family gatherings. The rituals and practices associated with the Hanukkah celebration are meant to be shared with the larger Jewish community that exists around us.
Hanukkah is an important reminder for all Jews to cherish freedom and ensure its continuity. May we continue to celebrate the miracle of the Maccabees in unity, freedom, and hope for many more years to come.
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Last update 2023-11-22. Price and product availability may change.