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Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה) is one of my favorite holidays: it includes lighting candles and chorusing with your family, and it requires eating fried food. What more can one ask from a holiday? 😉
חֲנֻכָּה is an eight day festival of light that commemorates the rededication of the great temple in Jerusalem. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, the triumph of spirituality over materiality, the triumph of purity over adulteration. The festival begins according to the Jewish calendar on the eve of the 25th of the third month of the year, somewhere around Christmas. Here is a short guide to how to celebrate חֲנֻכָּה:
1) Get Familiar with the Story of the Holiday
At the second century BCE the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucids respected the Jewish culture and protected their institutions. Life went peacefully until Antiochus IV was crowned. Antiochus IV sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. He issued decrees forbidding Jewish religious practice. The Jewish temple located in the walled city of Jerusalem was looted and Judaism was outlawed.
Most of the Jews obeyed Antiochus out of fear. But other were brave enough to refused. Judah Maccabee was one such man. Judah and his brothers formed an army of their own to fight King Antiochus. Other joined them, and although they were greatly outnumbered, the Maccabees defeated Antiochus. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth at that time, triumphantly reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.
Unfortunately the temple was in shambles. They began tidying the temple and sought oil to light the Menorah. They found one little cruse of olive oil, an amount that will be enough for one day. Miraculously, the lamps kept burning and the one day supply burned for eight days and eight nights, until new oil could be prepared. The Maccabees rededicated the temple to the service of God, and the miracle signed that God with them.
2) Light the Hanukkiah חַנֻכִּיָּה
To signify the miracle we light the Hanukkiah (חַנֻכִּיָּה) for eight days. חַנֻכִּיָּה is a nine branched candelabrum: eight branches for eight days of candles and one branch for the שַׁמָּשׁ (Sha-mash), an auxiliary candle. The חַנֻכִּיָּה candles are sacred and can’t be used to light each other. The only way to light them it with the help of the שַׁמָּשׁ. Not only the candles, but the חַנֻכִּיָּה light is also sacred. It may not be used for any purpose. One cannot play with the candles, read by their light, etc. They are only for the joy of seeing them.
Placing the חַנֻכִּיָּה is important. We are commanded to publicize the miracle and the best way to do so is by displaying the חַנֻכִּיָּה on the windowsill. Secular people do not always do that, but the truly religious people even take out the חַנֻכִּיָּה and conduct the ceremony on the pavement. For eight evenings the family gathers around the חַנֻכִּיָּה, blesses the candles, lights them (one candle on the first day, two candles on the second day, and so on), and sings together.
Check out this video to learn the process of lighting the חַנֻכִּיָּה ceremony:
3) Eat fried foods
Another way to signify the miracle is eating foods fried in oil. Latkes (potato pancakes) and Sufganyiot (doughnuts) are usually served while lighting the חַנֻכִּיָּה ceremony. A year ago (wow, time does fly!) I shared a recipe of Sufganyiah (סֻפְגָּנִיָּה). You are welcome to try it at home.
4) Play dreidel
The English name originates in Yiddish, but in Hebrew it calls סְבִיבוֹן (Se-vi-von). The connection between סְבִיבוֹן and the Maccabees` victory is obscure. Yet סְבִיבוֹן is a known costume associated with חֲנֻכָּה. There are actually two kinds of סְבׅיבוֹנׅים: the ones been sell in Israel, and the ones been sell outside of Israel. On the local סְבׅיבוֹנׅים engraved four letters from the Hebrew alphabet: נ, ג, ה, פ. Which together form the acronym for: נֵס גָּדוֹל הָיָה פֹּה (Nes ga-dol ha-ya po) = a great miracle happened here. On the Diaspora סְבׅיבוֹנׅים engraved the same four letters with the exception of the last: נ, ג, ה, ש. They form a different acronym: נֵס גָּדוֹל הָיָה שם (Nes ga-dol ha-ya sham) = a great miracle happened there. Here and there refer to the land of Israel. The letters are maybe different but the סְבִיבוֹן is the same. Spinning it around is a part of חֲנֻכָּה 🙂
5) Give and receive Hanukkah Gelt דְּמֵי חֲנֻכָּה
It’s Yiddish and it’s literally means Hanukkah money. In Hebrew it called דְּמֵי חֲנֻכָּה (De-mei Hanukkah). The tradition is of parents giving money to their kids, but as a costume it can differ from family to family. At mine it was the grandparents who brought דְּמֵי חֲנֻכָּה to their grandsons, and it was never actual money but presents. The only money we received was the chocolate coins, a symbol of these tradition, that became a traditional holiday snack.
Holiday = חַג
Hanukkah = חֲנֻכָּה
Light = אוֹר
Temple = מִקְדָּשׁ
Maccabee = מַכַּבִּי
Hanukkiah = חַנֻכִּיָּה
Shamash = שַׁמָּשׁ
Sufganyiah = סֻפְגָּנִיָּה
Dreidel = סְבִיבוֹן
Hanukkah Gelt =דְּמֵי חֲנֻכָּה