Hanukkah is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, celebrated by individuals of diverse backgrounds from around the world. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 165 BCE. While the main Hanukkah celebrations take place over eight nights and days every December, many customs and traditions of the holiday extend far beyond the eight days of the festival.
What is the Significance of Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is celebrated as a remembrance of the triumph of light over darkness. The holiday’s name, which comes from the Hebrew words for “dedication” and “rededication,” is linked to the story of the Maccabees’ battle against the Syrian Greek armies in the 2nd Century BC. This story, known as “The Miracle of the Oil,” tells of how the Maccabees fought bravely against Syrian-Greek troops and reclaimed their sacred Temple in Jerusalem. After they reclaimed the Temple, the Maccabees found that all the oil dedicated to the Holy Temple had been defiled by the occupying forces. They recovered a cruse of pure oil, placed it in the lamps of the Temple, and miraculously it burned for eight days, enough time to produce more oil for the Temple. To commemorate this miracle, Jews observe Hanukkah for eight nights and days and light the hanukkiyah, or menorah, with nine branches representing the eight nights of the observance plus one extra candle (known as the shamash) to light all the other flames.
Why is Hanukkah Celebrated?
Hanukkah represents the re-dedication and celebration of freedom. The Maccabees’ brave fight against the forces of oppression serves as a reminder of the human spirit’s capability of attaining and protecting freedom. By lighting the menorah, we celebrate not only the miraculous oil of the past, but also use the light to remind us of our continuous freedom and responsibility to fight injustice today.
The Hanukkah menorah is perhaps the most iconic symbol of the holiday, but other symbols are associated with the celebration as well. Latkes (potato pancakes) commemorate the oil used for the miracle, while sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) recall the shape of the cruse in which the oil was found. Dreidels are small spinning tops with four sides, each with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet that stands for the phrase “A great miracle happened there”. Hanukkah is also celebrated by exchanging gifts, playing games, and enjoying traditional music.
Hanukkah continues to serve as a reminder of how faith, courage, and resilience can lead to courage and freedom. While the holiday is rooted in history, the celebration of Hanukkah has taken on new ceremonial importance in the modern age, with individuals from many different backgrounds around the world coming together to observe the holiday. Each year, people of diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs gather together to share the light of the menorah and honor the Maccabees’ battle against oppression.
By celebrating Hanukkah and reflecting on the courage and dedication of the Maccabees, we hope to carry on their legacy in our own lives and contribute to a brighter, more tolerant world.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.