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Hanukkah, or Chanukah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, is the eight-day and eight-night festival of light. The Jewish holiday celebrates a miracle that symbolizes faith and never losing hope. Hanukkah begins at sundown today, December 16th and ends on Wednesday, December 24th.
In preparation of Hanukkah, let’s chat and chew about its history and traditions.
THE HISTORY: WITNESSING A MIRACLE
Hanukkah commemorates the successful rebellion of the Jewish freedom fighters called the Maccabees against the Greeks in the Maccabean War. (More) After their victory, a ritual cleansing and re-dedication of the Temple took place.
After restoring the Holy Temple, only enough consecrated oil was found to keep the menorah’s candles burning for one-day; yet, the flames remained lit for eight nights! This event is why Hanukkah is referred to as the Feast of Lights or Festival of Lights.
- Light the Menorah: The Menorah—a candelabrum that holds nine candles—is the centerpiece of the Hanukkah celebration. Eight of the candles symbolize the number of days the oil lasted, which are placed in the Menorah right to left, BUT lit left to right. The ninth candle, known as the Shamash, is used to help light the other candles. Families light one new candle every day after sundown during the eight days Hanukkah, while saying prayers and singing songs.
- Holiday Songs: Speaking of singing, Hanukkah has its own carols that are sung around the Menorah. Songs are about a variety of things—topics range from the glory of God and the ancient Temple of the Jews, to the iconic dreidel. See a list of songs here.
- Tasty Foods: As with most holidays, Hanukkah comes with traditional foods that are always served—but you don’t have to celebrate Hanukkah to enjoy them! If you’re looking for some new twists on traditional foods, see below for some yummy, HEALTHIER, Hanukkah recipes to try in the coming days.
- Crispy Potato Latkes
- Oven Barbecued Brisket
- Bold Winter Greens Salad
- Braised Kale
- Challah Bread Braid
- Pumpkin Kugel
- Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel: Playing with dreidels, or spinning tops, is customary during the holiday. Sometimes bets will be placed on which side of the dreidel will fall face up. The story goes “that Jews played with the dreidel in order to fool the Greeks if they were caught studying Torah, which had been outlawed.” (More) The characters carved into the four sides of the dreidel are the letters nun, gimmel, hey, and shin, which represent nes gabol haya sham, or “a great miracle happened there.”
- Gold Coins: Better Homes and Gardens describes that the tradition of handing out gelt—the Yiddish word for “money”—dates back to 17th century Poland. It’s suggested that the gesture relates back to after the Maccabean revolt—the only time Jews were historically free to mint their own coins, in their own state. (More)
If you have some recipes or family traditions of your own, please feel free to share with us! In the meantime, check out our Pinterest board, where you’ll find fun DIY Hanukkah-inspired activities and more recipes to enjoy this holiday season!