The meaning and history of the holiday |

The meaning and history of the holiday

Amy Snelson
Special to the Tribune

What is the correct way to spell Channukah? The card shop has four different versions.

These are the problems of translating Hebrew to English. While not all Jewish people agree on a spelling, what is most essential is the meaning, knowing what Channukah is about and how its celebrated. It is also important to know the significance is of the food. Latkes and jelly donuts are no accident.

Though not mentioned in the Torah, Channukah is one of the most popular and recognizable holidays celebrated around the world. Chanukah is celebrated for eight days each year beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev. This is based on a lunar calendar and will therefore fall on a different date each year according to the calendar.

While some families celebrate Channukah by giving presents, all families will gather around the eight branch menorah, sometimes called a chanukiya, to hear and remember the story of the recapture of the temple and the miracle of the oil.

For many years Jewish people living under the rule of the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes had to endure countless cruelties including prohibitions against all and any form of Jewish worship, until Mattathias, the priest of Modi’in and his five sons organized a small army and revolted.

Led by one of the sons — Judah, this small army grew until finally after three long, bitter years, the army, now called the Macabees, victoriously defeated the king to reclaim the right to religious freedom for all. They ran to their holy temple only to find their worst nightmares realized. Everywhere there were signs of desecration The final insult came when they found that the eight branched candelabrum, the menorah that was always to be burning, dark. They looked for special oil. It would take eight days to make new oil. They found only enough for one day.

Then, according to legend, a great miracle happened. The oil that was suppose to last for only one day, lasted eight full days. To help celebrate and remember this event, many interesting customs have developed.

At the heart of this holiday is the lighting of the menorah. Traditionally, on each night of Chanukah, one candle is lit. One candle the first night, two candles the second night and special prayers are said over the lights and songs are sung. After the lighting of the lights, children might play a game using a top called a dreidl. It is also a time for eating special foods fried in oil like potato pancakes called latkes and savganiot or jelly filled doughnuts.

Chanukkah is a Jewish holiday, but one need not be Jewish to enjoy it . Though Jewish in origin, its message that people have the right to practice their religion freely is universal.

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