Hanukkah is one of the most joyous Jewish holidays. It celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greeks in the Second Century BCE and commemorates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, relit by one jar of consecrated oil which miraculously lasted 8 days. One of the central rituals of Hanukkah is kindling the Menorah – a 9-branched candelabrum – with a special blessing each night of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah can be celebrated anywhere, so long as the Menorah is lit. In many homes, the Menorah is lit in the front window, so as to share the joy and light of Hanukkah with the neighborhood. Most Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jewish communities designate the front of the synagogue or a chanukkiyah (the Hebrew for Menorah) on the bimah (pulpit) as the place of ritual lighting.
In traditional Sephardic communities, the Hanukkah kindling is done in the courtyard or even outdoors. Similarly, the chanukkiyot of cities throughout the world take on special beauty as public Menorot are lit in outdoor settings.
Other Hanukkah Customs
Eating fried foods
Eating fried foods are traditional on Hanukkah, a custom which dates back to the time of the Maccabees when olive oil was used for the kindling of the Temple lamp. Many Jews eat sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes), cooked in oil, which symbolizes the victory of the Maccabees.
Playing dreidel is a widely popular tradition of the holiday and is considered a game of chance. Gambling for fictional gelt (Yiddish for “money”) is part of the game. Chocolates or small coins are the type of gelt normally used in the game.
In some Jewish communities, small gifts or money are given on each of the Festival’s eight days. In recent years, Hanukkah has become a popular time for giving gifts, a trend which is increasingly accepted in traditional Jewish circles.
Hanukkah is celebrated anywhere and everywhere that Jews can gather, from a private residence to an outdoor menorah and even in the synagogue. No matter the location, the spirit of the festival is always present and the beauty of the ritual of kindling the menorah shines forth, a reminder of the miracle of a single jar of oil which lit the reinauguration of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2,200 years ago.
Whether done in public or in private, with individuals or in groups, Hanukkah is a time to share candlelight, fried foods, stories and gifts, and to bask in the miracle of light and the joy of the Festival of the Rededication.
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Last update 2023-11-22. Price and product availability may change.