Understanding the Holiday of Chanukah for the Rest of Us
If you are not Jewish, you may have wondered about the holiday of Chanukah but have never had anyone to ask your questions of. Thanks to the Internet you can not get the answers to all of your questions even if you do not have any Jewish friends.
The first question many people ask is about the word “Chanukah” versus the spelling “Hanukkah.” The reason for the two spelling is because the letters in the Hebrew alphabet are different than those of the English alphabet. Essentially, both can be used interchangeably and either spelling is fine.
Chanukah is the Hebrew term for rededication and the celebration of Chanukah is known as the festival of lights. Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the month using the Jewish calendar. This means that it falls somewhere during November or December each year. The celebration lasts for eight days during which time Jewish people celebrate, light candles, and exchange small gifts.
Chanukah started over 2300 years ago in what is now known as Israel. The Hebrew people, also known as Jewish people, were ordered to give up their God and worship only the Greek Gods as other people of the time did. The Jewish temples were destroyed and any Jewish people who chose to worship in their own way were severely punished for it.
Some of the Jews chose to obey the mandate, while others refused. One of the men who refused to worship the Greek Gods was a man by the name of Judah Maccabee. Judah and his four brothers began an army of dissidents and asked as many other Jewish people to join them as they could. This army fought it’s enemy the Syrians for about three years until one day they were victorious and reclaimed their Temple in the city of Jerusalem.
The first priority of the Jewish people was to clean and rededicate the temple to the service of the Jewish God. They washed the temple, removed any Greek symbols and idols from it, and were ready to rededicate it to their own beliefs. Blessed oil was required to rededicate the Temple yet none could be found by Judah. They searched high and low and finally found a very little amount of oil in a Temple chamber.
They knew that there was only enough oil for one evening, but when they lit it a miracle occurred, the small amount of oil burned for eight nights! This is why the Jewish people light a Menorah each of the eight nights of Chanukah, to represent the eight evenings the oil burned for.
A Menorah is a special candle holder which holds a total of nine candles. Eight of the candles are for use each night of Chanukah, and the other candle is known as the “servant” and used to light the other candles. The candles are lit each evening and on the final night each of the eight candles all burn together. This is to signify the eight nights the oil burned in the Temple. While oil used to be burned in a Menorah, today colorful candles have replaced the oil.
In additon to the nightly lighting of the Menorah, Jewish children play a game called Dreidel. A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top which has Hebrew letters on each side standing for “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Children play the dreidel game by spinning the top and wagering candy coins.
The foods of Chanukah tend to be very oily. The reason for this is the fact that their holy oil burned for the eight days in the Temple. One favorite Chanukah food is latkes. Latkes are potato pancakes which are made from graded potatoes which have been mixed with eggs, onions, and flour and then fried in oil.
Hopefully, this will help you to better understand the Jewish celebration of Chanuakah a little bit better.