Happy Hanukkah

Although some foreigner believe so, but Hanukkah is not the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. If you’re curious, here are a few basic questions many non-Jews (and even some Jews!) have about the holiday

All right, so if it’s not a Jewish Christmas,then what is it?

Hanukkah is celebrated to mark the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 160s BC. After the then King Antiochus IV outlawed the Jewish religion and Jewish practices and said that Jews must worship the Greek gods in the Temple. Eventually, Jewish priest Mattahias, his son Judah Maccabee, and their army (creatively called The Maccabees) revolted forcing Antiochus IV out of Judea. Maccabee and his followers reclaimed the Temple and rebuilt.

Why the Jews Light up the 8 candles?

Hanukkah is referred to as “The Festival of Lights” . Menorahs have long been a symbol used in Judaism, and when the altar was rebuilt by Maccabees, part of that included relighting the menorahs. The soldiers only had enough oil to light the menorah for a single night, but the jews believe that the miracle happened and the little bit of oil lasted for eight full nights. Thus: the Miracle of Hanukkah. That’s why the celebration lasts for eight nights. Although most people use menorah in the context of Hanukkah, what observers are actually lighting is called a hanukkiah (ha-noo-kee-ah). It looks very similar to a menorah with eight prongs, but has a ninth candle, the Shamash, which is used to light the other candles.

What are some other ways to observe the holiday?

Many modern Jewish families celebrate by lighting the Hanukkah. One candle per night of Hanukkah is lit, like how the Hebrew is read, from right to left. People might also play dreidel games and eat certain foods like sufganiyot (similar to jelly donuts) and latkes (fried potato pancakes). Both foods are fried in oil, commemorative of the miracle of the Maccabees’ long-burning oil.

What is a dreidel and why is it played on Hanukkah?

A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters (Hay, Gimel, Nun and Shin) on each surface signifying the rules of the game. When Antiochus IV was in power, all Jewish practices like reading and studying the sacred Jewish text, the Torah were restricted. When soldiers would come through Jewish communities, those studying the Torah in secret would pretend to play the dreidel game so as not to be caught and arrested. Want to play? 

Is Hanukkah the most important Jewish holiday?Ask any Rabbi and and he would deny it. While it is celebrating a miracle, there are much more sacred holidays in Judaism. Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) both in the fall, are considered two of the most sacred holidays.

While for centuries many Jews have observed Hanukkah by lighting the hanukkah, saying certain prayers, and eating certain foods. It occurs roughly around Christmas, and companies are only too thrilled to capitalize on the timing. As Christmas is generally accepted as an important and universal experience in American childhood, kids of other faiths often feel left out of the celebrations. Due to the coincidental timing of Christmas and Hanukkah, some Jewish families participate in gift exchanging and decorating.

Why do the dates of Hanukkah change every year?

The dates of Jewish holidays are determined by the ancient Hebrew calendar different to the Gregorian calendar that was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, with which you are most familiar. The Hebrew calendar is based on a lunar cycle. So, while Hanukkah starts on the same day every year on the Hebrew calendar (25 Kislev), it doesn’t sync perfectly with the Gregorian calendar, so it has a “different” date each year. It tends to fall somewhere between late November and late December.