Hanukkah begins Friday
During this time of year there is a major community focus on Christmas tradition and events. There is, however, another widely celebrated, festive holiday that takes place during the month of December.
Hanukkah, also called the “Festival of Lights,” is an eight-day celebration which begins this year on Dec. 3.
On the first night of Hanukkah, one candle is lighted on the menorah, a nine-branched candle holder. There is one candle to represent each day of Hanukkah and the shammash, the serving candle used to light the other eight. Each night one more candle is lighted until they are all burning.
Historical meaning behind the practice is as follows:
In 168 B.C., Greek soldiers invaded the Temple in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship. Judah Maccabee led a small group of Jewish freedom fighters in a three-year rebellion against Syrian rule and conquered the mighty Greek army in 165 B.C. Judah recaptured Jerusalem’s Temple and rededicated it for Jewish worship.
Legend says that when the Temple was rededicated, oil was needed to relight the sacred lamps in the Temple, which the Greek invaders let burn out. There was only enough pure oil for one day of light, but by some miracle, the tiny amount lasted eight days, the time it takes to make and consecrate new oil. And so was born the eight-day celebration known as Hanukkah.
And while Hanukkah is not one of the major holidays on the Jewish calendar, it is an important means of maintaining Jewish identity and an opportunity for parents and children to share in sacred tradition.
“It’s a family celebration,” said Alana Rugg, a member of South Shore’s Jewish community. “It’s a happy and relaxed holiday in Jewish tradition. It’s a time to be with family and friends.”
According to Charna Silver, a member of the Temple Bat Yam, Hanukkah is for the most part a home-celebrated holiday.
“Hanukkah is one of our smaller holidays, but most Jewish people celebrate it, regardless of their involvement in organized religion, just because it is one of the most well-known,” Silver said. “The kids get a small gift each night. Actually, it’s gotten a lot more commercialized because of its proximity to Christmas. It used to be that children received gelt, little coins, now it’s gotten much bigger.”
There are also special foods eaten during Hanukkah. Foods cooked in oil commemorate the miracle of the oil for the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Latkes, potato pancakes, are a popular holiday treat.
“I make latkes,” Rugg said. “I have two recipes. One is my mother’s and one is my great uncle’s, who was a cook in the Army during World War II. He used to make latkes for all of his troops.”
Playing dreidle, a gambling-type game for children, is another Hanukkah tradition. A dreidle is a four-sided top, each side bearing one of four Hebrew letters which together spell out the sentence, “A great miracle happened there.” Using markers such as pennies, raisins, nuts or candy, each person contributes to the “pot.” Everyone takes turns spinning the dreidle. The letter that lands face up tells the spinner whether he or she wins the pot, adds to the pot, takes half of the pot or does nothing.
Children’s stories are also a fun part of Hanukkah.
According to Silver, books such as “The Hanukkah Guest” and “Hershel the Hanukkah Goblin” are fun stories about the Jewish holiday.
Other books, like Patricia Polocco’s “Tree of the Dancing Goats” explore both Hanukkah and Christmas traditions.
“It (Polocco’s book) is sort of an intermingling of Hanukkah and Christmas,” Silver said. “Which is nice since there are so many inter-faith marriages.”
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