Here is a basic guide to Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.
First things first: Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas.” Christmas is one of the most important holidays in Christianity – a commemoration of the birth of Jesus, who Christians believe was God.
In comparison, Hanukkah has a much smaller meaning in Judaism. But because it’s so close to Christmas on the calendar, it’s become a way for Jews in the United States — especially children — to participate in a holiday season defined by the prevailing Christian culture, according to Maytal Saltiel, associate professor at Yale University.
“It’s a small Jewish holiday. It’s definitely not one of the big ones,” explains Saltiel. “But because of its temporal calendar position, it’s definitely given a lot of importance in American society.”
so what is About Hanukkah? Here is an overview.
When is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah lasts eight days and nights, from the 24th day of the month of Kislev to the 1st day of the month of Tevet in the Jewish religious calendar. In the calendar most of us are used to, called the Gregorian calendar, Hanukkah usually falls in late November or December.
What is Hanukkah about?
Some religious holidays are murky, however Hanukkah (sometimes spelled “Chanukah”) is festive. It celebrates a time some 2,200 years ago when a small army of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees overthrew a Greek-Syrian occupation of Israel.
Hanukkah means “devotion”. After overthrowing the Greek ruler, the Maccabees rededicated the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which they believed the Greeks had desecrated.
Every night a special oil lamp with seven branches called a menorah burned in the temple. When the Maccabees rededicated the temple, they could only find enough pure oil for one night. However, according to Jewish tradition, one day the oil miraculously lasted eight nights before the Maccabees could make more oil for the menorah.
According to Saltiel, this story can have a lot of meaning for our lives today, whether we are Jewish or not. “What does it mean to purify yourself, to purify the temple?” She asks. “How do we explain our own values and clarify who we are and what we want to stand for?”
How do Jews celebrate Hanukkah?
Jews celebrate Hanukkah saying special prayers and lighting a nine-branched oil lamp or candlestickalso called menorah.
One of the menorah’s flames sits higher than the others. It’s called the shame, or “companion”. First, one person lights the shamash, and then uses it to light the other flames – one on the first Hanukkah night, two on the second, and so on until all the lights are lit on the last night. The menorah is said to be placed in a window or doorway for others to see – a way of publicizing the miracle of oil.
This oil has also crept into Hanukkah food, and Jews eat it special dishes cooked in oil on this holiday. called potato pancakes latkesusually topped with sour cream and applesauce, and jelly-filled donuts are favorites.
Why is Hanukkah so significant?
Hanukkah falls during the darkest and coldest time of year – a time of year when many struggle with depression, when the days are short and hope can seem low.