Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival, with the holiday celebrating a great miracle that occurred over two thousand years ago. During the Hasmonean Dynasty, Jews of the Land of Israel rose up against persecution by the Greco-Syrian Empire and miraculously emerged victorious. To commemorate this victory, as well as rededicating the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Festival of Hanukkah was instituted, and to this day is celebrated by Jewish people around the world.
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What is Hanukkah Centered Around?
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, and occurs during November-December on the secular calendar. Hanukkah centers around the miracle of the oil, which took place during the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Book of Maccabees, only one flask of oil was found that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Miraculously, it lit the Menorah in the Temple for the full eight days it took to prepare oil with the correct ritual purity, even though it only should have lasted one day. To commemorate this miracle, Jews celebrate Hanukkah with the lighting of an 8-candle menorah each night. Other traditions that make up the celebration are playing the game of dreidel, eating latkes, and exchanging gifts.
Lighting the Menorah
On the first night of Hanukkah, one candle is placed in the menorah, then lit from an existing flame, typically a Shabbat candle. For each subsequent night of Hanukkah, another candle is added, from right to left, although the leftmost flame is used to light the other candles. Prayers are said after the lighting of the menorah each night, including the Shehecheyanu, which is a prayer of thanksgiving which acknowledges the specialness of the particular holiday.
The dreidel is a four-sided top with a different Hebrew letter inscribed on each side. The letters spell out נס גדול, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, meaning “A great miracle happened there.” The game of dreidel is played with a pot (or gelt) filled with coins or chocolate. Players take turns spinning the dreidel and winning coins depending on which letter it lands on.
Latkes are delicious deep-fried potato pancakes, typically served with applesauce. Many families have an annual latke-making session as part of their Hanukkah celebrations. As oil was used in the miracle of Hanukkah, eating fried foods during the festival is a popular way to commemorate the event.
Traditionally, gifts are exchanged during Hanukkah, particularly for children. Gelt, or Yiddish for “money,” is often given as a gift. In Israel, it is common to give children Hanukkah gelt in the form of chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper.
Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday that celebrates a miraculous event that took place over two thousand years ago. To commemorate this event, Jewish people around the world celebrate Hanukkah by lighting an eight-candle menorah each night, playing the four-sided dreidel game, enjoying traditional fried foods such as latkes, and exchanging gifts. Hanukkah is a joyous celebration of a triumph of faith over religious persecution, and is a way to rekindle the spirit of hope, courage, and inspiration.
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Last update 2023-11-22. Price and product availability may change.