Chanukah also spelled Hanukkah and known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah (Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה, usually spelled חנוכה pronounced [χanuˈka] in Modern Hebrew, also romanized as Chanukah or Chanuka), is observed for eight nights and days. According to the Hebrew calendar, it starts on the 25th day of Kislev, which may occur from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.
Did you know these facts?
- Hanukkah is less religiously significant than other Jewish holidays.
- The menorah holds nine candles. In the center stands the shamus or servant. The shamus lights the eight other Hanukkah candles.
- The Hanukkah candles are strictly for pleasure. They are not to be used for any useful or productive purpose. The shamus is available, so the Hanukkah candles are not accidentally used to light a fire in the fireplace or for another useful purpose.
- Gift-giving is not traditionally a part of the Hanukkah holiday.
- Playing dreidel is a gambling game popular during the Hanukkah holiday.
- Fried foods are traditional during the holiday, representing the oil used to light the lamps.
HOW TO OBSERVE #Chanukah
While learning more about Chanukah, celebrate the holiday with a few of these traditions:
- Light the menorah for the eight nights of the celebration.
- Play the dreidel game. Teach others how to play, too.
- Give gelt or chocolate coins.
- Don’t forget the fried food! Pastries, donuts, and latkes come to mind. There are so many kinds of latkes to try, too! Check out the recipes at My Jewish Learning for more ways than you can imagine.
- Invite friends to join you in your traditions.
- Retell the Chanukah story.
Share your Chanukah traditions with others. See Use #Chanukah to post on social media.
During the time of Alexander the Great, Jewish culture began to blend with the Greek culture. Jews who accepted Greek culture at the expense of their religion became known as Hellenists. Alexander and the Jews had a mostly peaceful relationship; the Jews were loyal to his rule, and Alexander didn’t destroy and abuse them.
Around 190 BCE, when Alexander left Israel and Antiochus IV took over, most Jews had assimilated to Greek culture but continued to practice their faith. However, Antiochus expected more from the Jews.
Antiochus forced Greek culture on the devout Jewish people by placing Hellenistic priests in the Temple. He also desecrated the Temple by sacrificing pigs at the altar, prohibiting Jews from practicing their faith, killing their faithful, and levying heavy taxes upon them.
A rebel force of Jews formed around the year 166 BCE. They revolted against Antiochus’ government and took back the Temple. So that they could rededicate the Temple, oil was needed for the menorah. But there was only enough undefiled oil to last one night. Miraculously, it lasted eight days. Hanukkah is the eight-day Festival of Lights commemorating this miracle of the oil.
Q. What is gelt?
A. Hanukkah gelt is a gift of chocolate coins given during the Hanukkah holiday. The money is often given during the Dreidel game.
Q. What do the symbols mean on the dreidel?
A. Four symbols appear on the four-sided top called a dreidel. Players take turns spinning a dreidel during the game. The symbols represent letters from the Hebrew alphabet: Nun, Gimmel, Hey, and Shin. Each letter determines the action to be taken on a player’s spin.
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