Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday of lights, has been observed since the times of the Maccabees over 2,200 years ago. But who was the first U.S. President to officially recognize Hanukkah?
In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison became the first U.S. President to officially recognize Hanukkah with a proclamation in the White House. This proclamation declared a day of national thanksgiving in honor of the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The holiday itself commemorates the Jewish people’s resistance to the oppressive regimes of the Seleucid dynasty and marks their victory.
Today, Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting the Menorah, the nine-branch candelabra that is lit repeatedly throughout the eight days and nights of Hanukkah. A special compass called a dreidel is used to play a spinning top game, and gifts are exchanged to mark the occasion. Popular dishes associated with Hanukkah are deep-fried latkes and sufganiyot, or donuts.
President Ronald Reagan further recognized the significance of Hanukkah when he issued a proclamation in 1984. In his proclamation, President Reagan said that “this commemoration…symbolized the constant faith of the Jewish people in the Almighty and in the fact that faith can inspire every human being to defy the odds and triumph over seemingly insuperable obstacles.”
As Hanukkah has become more and more recognized in the United States, it has also grown in significance and importance across the world. President George W. Bush embraced the holiday of Hanukkah in 2001 and said, “the lessons of Hanukkah – the courage to fight oppression, the strength to defend freedom, and the enduring hope of a brighter tomorrow – are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago in the days of the Maccabees.”
President Harrison was the first U.S. President to officially recognize Hanukkah, but countless Presidents since him have declared their gratitude for the holiday and its message, recognizing the triumph of freedom, faith, and hope. As Hanukkah continues to be celebrated each year, we can be sure that we will see another official White House Hanukkah proclamation from a President in the future.
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Last update 2023-11-22. Price and product availability may change.