Tonight marks the first of the eight days and nights of Hanukkah.
This year, the observance of Hanukkah runs through the evening of December 26. One of the first things people who aren’t Jewish notice about Hanukkah is that it does not seem to occur on the same date each year. But Hanukkah does fall on the same date each year on the Jewish calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle. The Gregorian calendar we are most familiar with is based on solar cycle. Easter is also based on the lunar calendar, by the way. So, that is why Hanukkah does not fall on the same date each year on our regular calendars.
Hanukkah is an annual Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights. The word Hanukkah means “dedication.” The holiday celebrates a miracle that happened in the 2nd century B.C. Greece then ruled Jerusalem and the ruler took over the Jewish temple and had it rededicated to Zeus. The Maccabees fought this and reclaimed the Temple. They wanted to re-consecrate their temple but there was only one small jar left of holy oil. They found, however, after lighting the temple Menorah, that the oil lasted long enough to burn for eight nights, until more oil could be had.
Hanukkah became a festive holiday in the U.S. partly in response to a desire to supply Jewish children with a fun celebration of their own to identify with at a time when Christmas festivities were prevalent. Customs include treats cooked with oil, lighting a menorah each night, recitations, parties, songs and games. Some also decorate and exchange gifts and cards.
Some Hanukkah traditions you may know include
- Menorah a sacred candelabrum with symbolic meaning, including the seven days of creation plus the Sabbath, the Tree of Light, areas of knowledge and the eight days of Hanukkah.
- Blue and white came to be associated with Hanukkah in the US in the 20th century as the demand for greeting cards and party supplies grew. The colors refer to the flag of Israel, which became a state in 1948. In lights and decorations, the blue and white colors help distinguish Hanukkah items from the traditional red and green colors of Christmas.
- Latkes potato pancakes fried in oil and often served with apple sauce and sour cream.
- Sufganiot donuts filled with jelly, fried in hot oil and covered with sugar.
- Dreidl and Gelt. A dreidl is a game piece, similar to dice, wth four sides. The Hebrew letters correspond to a statement along the lines of “a miracle happened there,” referring to the miracle of Hanukkah. Each player puts an item in the pot (e.g., pennies, raisins or “gelt’ – chocolate money). The players take turns spinning the dreidl and the side it lands on determines whether It player wins the whole pot, part of it, none of it or has to share from his stash.
You know how I feel about Christmas movies, so you also know I am going to talk about Hanukkah movies! A delightful movie exploring Hanukkah customs is Mistletoe and Menorahs. You can rent it on YouTube. Here’s the trailer. And the dreamy star, Jake Epstein, also appears in the 2021 Hanukkah movie The Eight Gifts of Hanukkah, available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video, if you are interested. Happy Hanukkah!
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