What is it?
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by King Antiochus. This celebration occurs on Kislev 25, a Hebrew month that falls between November and December, and lasts eight nights.
What is Being Celebrated?
Many, many years ago, the land of Israel was ruled over by King Antiochus from the Seleucid Empire (Syrian-Greeks). While kings before had allowed for a diverse existence of the land, King Antiochus was insistent upon a kingdom adhering to one religion, one culture, and one way of life. King Antiochus forbade the practice of Judaism and changed the Temple into one honoring Greek gods with idols and altars abound. Many Jewish folk under his ruling found themselves complying to stay alive. One group called the Maccabees decided that they would not comply, and instead they would fight back. Although this group was quite small and underequipped compared to the royal army, the Maccabees were successful and ended up defeating King Antiochus and reclaiming the Temple.
The Temple was no longer a holy place for the Jews, so the Maccabees got to work cleaning up and cleansing the Temple. On Kislev 25, the Temple was finally ready. The Maccabees held a large celebration honoring the rededication of the Temple. When the Maccabees took back their Temple, they found that there was only one jar of oil left that could be used to light the Temple’s Menorah. While this oil should have only lasted one night, it miraculously lasted eight, which is exactly how long it took for new oil to be made. These eight days are part of why Hanukkah lasts for eight nights.
How is it Celebrated Now?
Jewish households across the world will celebrate Hanukkah on Kislev 25, a day that falls sometime between November and December (which is why the date of Hanukkah changes each year). Each night when it is dark out, a new candle on the menorah will be added and lit. The candle in the middle is called the shamash, which means “attendant.” This candle will be lit first and used to light the other candles. The menorah should be placed in a doorway or in front of a window so that others may see it and be reminded of the miracle. Special blessings will be recited before lighting any candles and traditional songs will be sung after.
Many kids will play the dreidel game, which involves spinning a dreidel and having someone win or lose the “pot” (most often nuts, coins, or chocolate coins) depending upon how the four-sided dreidel lands. Kids will also often receive gifts or Hanukkah gelt, which just refers to money given during Hanukkah. Many times, children will be given chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil to mimic coins rather than actual money. Hanukkah has also evolved into including more gift-giving due to its proximity to Christmas.
Many households will also find themselves serving latkes, potato pancakes, and sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts. Both of these foods are ones that are fried in oil, a nod to the oil used to light the Temple’s menorah.
If you are interested in receiving your own Menorah or dreidel, please feel free to reach out to Chabad of Pierce County at 954-348-5850.