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The Chanukah Basics


Photo courtesy of Judaica-Guide.com/chanukahChanukah, Hanukkah, חנוכה Whatever way you spell it, the Jewish eight-night festival of the Maccabbees’ successful revolt against an anti-Semitic monarch starts at sundown this Friday, December 11th or the eve of Kislev 25 in the Hebrew calendar.

Chanukah (this version is the most accepted Romanized spelling of the Hebrew transliteration) is known as the “festival of lights.” What is probably the most well known Jewish holiday is not really an observant, religious holy day -no religious services during the day. There are, however, traditions and added prayers in the evenings.  Chanukah’s high recognition stems from its chronological proximity to Christmas, but it is more a festival or celebration than important religious day.

The story goes that around 200 BCE or 200 years before Christ a small group of Jews, nicknamed the Maccabbees after the Hebrew word for hammer, revolted against the king of Syria ruling in Jerusalem. Though greatly outnumbered, the rebellion was successful and the Jews reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. When they went to light the menorahs, or candelabras, in the Temple the Maccabbees found only enough oil for one night. Miraculously, the menorah burned for eight nights and thus inspired the eight-night celebration of Chanukah.

Because of the significance of the oil, it is customary to eat fried foods like doughnuts or latkes (potato pancakes) during the festival. At sundown the menorah or chanukkiah is lit. The eight candles represent the eight days of Chanukah. The ninth candle, most often separated from the rest, is used to light the other candles. Each night a subsequent candle is lit, until the eighth night when all of the candles are aflame. A chanukkiah or Chanukah menorah is different from a standard menorah or standard candelabra because it has the extra two candles to total eight. 

Other traditions include playing with a four-sided top or dreidel, gelt or candy money, and giving gifts.

If you’d like to make latkes this year, a good recipe can be found on the Food Network’s latke recipe. 

Easy to follow directions to play dreidel can be found at MyJewishLearning.com

More basic information on Chanukah can be found at Holidays.net.


Photo Courtesy of http://www.judaica-guide.com/chanukah/