Hanukkah is one of the most beloved and joyful Jewish festivals. Also called Chanukah, Hanukkah is usually held in mid to late December.
The date may vary in the Gregorian Calendar but celebrations always start in the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew Calendar. The main ritual of Hanukkah is centered around the hanukkah menorah, also called the hanukkiyah, which holds nine candles. Eight candles symbolize the eight days of Hanukkah, and the ninth candle in the center called the shamash, is the helper candle used to light the other candles. Every night, a candle is lighted until the hanukkiyah is ablaze with lights on the eighth day of the festival.
Traditionally, oil is one of the central themes of Hanukkah. That’s why many of the food enjoyed by Jews during this holiday are typically fried in oil. Latkes or potato pancakes are a favorite snack among Jews. For those who prefer a sweeter treat, the sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) is very popular. Other common snacks consumed during Hanukkah are cheese and other dairy products. Hanukkah gelt are also given to young Jewish children.
Gelt are chocolate candies wrapped in gold and silver foil to look like coins.
Playing the dreidel, a four-sided toy similar to a spinning top, is a favorite pastime during Hanukkah. In a game of dreidel, players are given a number of tokens (such as gelt, coins, peppermints, etc). Each player puts a token in the middle, this is called the “pot”. The players then take turns spinning the dreidel. Each player must follow the instructions on the side facing up when the dreidel stops. Nun – do nothing; Hey: take half of the pieces from the pot; Shin – put one more piece in; Gimmel – take all the pieces. The game continues until one person is left with all the tokens and is declared the winner.
The most important thing about Hanukkah is celebrating the miracle of the oil. It is said that when the Maccabees took back the Second Temple of Jerusalem from the Seleucids, they found that it was desecrated and the sacred menorah contained very little oil, which they feared would last only one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, giving enough time for the Jews to make new sacred oil.
To commemorate the miracle of the oil, a candle is lit every day for eight days, with every member of the family praying and giving thanks to God for his blessings.