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Happy Hanukkah!

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Hanukkah – the festival of rededication – the festival of lights

Happy Hanukkah! This Jewish holiday starts today and lasts for eight days. The exciting story behind it dates back thousands of years.

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, that often falls in the month of December. Hanukkah is also known as the festival of lights, and it celebrates a miracle that happened in the Holy temple in the 2nd century BCE.

The story behind Hanukkah

Jerusalem was ruled by a Syrian-Greek regime. The Syrian King, Antiochus had banned Judaism, most of the synagogues were destroyed, Jews were massacred and The Holy temple was desecrated.
But one man in Jerusalem could not let this go on. His name was Mattathias. He was a priest, and together with his five sons, they gathered a small army, called the Maccabees.
Heavily outnumbered, they fought against the mighty army of the regime. For three years they fought to take over the temple, and in 164 BCE they succeeded. The first thing the Maccabees did after entering the Holy Temple, was to light the golden Menorah.
To light the Menorah, you need oil. The temple was completely ripped of oil, but the Maccabees managed to find a small can. The oil they found would just be enough for one day. But miraculously the Menorah kept burning for 8 days. Now that is a miracle, and also why Hanukkah is called the festival of lights.

Did you know

  • The original Menorah was made for the Tabernacle. In Judaism, the Menorah symbolized universal enlightenment. In Christianity, the seven arms of the Menorah represents the seven churches in Asia that the revelation was sent to.
  • The tradition in the Holy Temple was to let the Menorah burn every day, throughout the night.
  • The word “Hanukkah” means dedication.

Traditions during Hannukah

Light candles
In most Jewish homes you will find a Hanukkiah (candle holder), with 9 arms. Eight of the arms represent the eight days the golden menorah was burning in the temple. The ninth arm, the one in the middle, is a helper to light the other candles. Every night of the holiday, a new candle is lit. It´s also usual to read these two blessings:

Blessed are You, our God,
Creator of time and space,
who enriches our lives with holiness,
commanding us to kinkle the Chanukkah lights.

Blessed are You, our God,
Creator of time and space,
who performs miracles for our ancestors,
in the days of long ago and in this time.

Play Dreidel
Dreidel is a wooden spinner, with four sides, each side containing a letter, that together makes the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham, meaning; “A great miracle happened here”. The Dreidel is played so the children can learn about why they celebrate Hanukkah. Some also use the Dreidel to gamble over snack or chocolate.

Eat fried foods
Because of the miracle of the oil that kept burning, it´s a tradition to eat fried foods. Latke is one of them, which can be described as potato pancakes, made of potato, flour and egg.

Sufganiyah is another popular food during Hanukkah and can be compared with doughnuts. It is a round bun, filled with jam, sprinkled with granulated sugar. And it´s delicious!

Similarities to Christmas

Many think that Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas. It’s not. Jews do not celebrate Christmas, even though you might find a Christian village or two that does. Christmas is probably the biggest holiday in Christianity. Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday for the Jews and does not have a deep religious significance, as many of the other Jewish holidays have. So even though the two holidays have some similarities, their religious weight and significance are different.

  • In Hanukkah, you light one candle every night for eight days. At Christmas, you light one candle every Sunday in December, and of course on the Christmas tree.
  • Presents is also a big part of Christmas, and its normal to give fine and thoughtful gifts to family and friends. In Hanukkah, the tradition is to give small gifts, often money and food.

Read the full story about the Maccabees and the miracle in the Holy Temple.

 

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Birgitte Eisenberg

2 Comments

  1. Claudia M. Geels
    December 3, 2018 at 8:54 am

    חנוכה שמח!
    We went to Oxford last night to see the lighting of the Sjamash and the first candle on the big menorah in Broadstreet. Thank you for your blog and sharing this! Happy Chanukah, Ariel, Brigitte and Sela

  2. Kim
    December 4, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    I was in Israel for the first time last year. I loved it and I think your blog is a wonderful place to learn more.

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