Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fun Facts About Hanukkah
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Whether you spell it Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah, or Chanuka, this Jewish holiday is also known as the Festival of Lights. The name Hanukkah derives from the Hebrew verb meaning 'to dedicate.'

The eight-day and night celebration commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE.

Hanukkah starts on the the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. The date may occur at any time from late November to late December. This year, Hanukkah begins on December 8th.

The story of Hanukkah, along with its laws and customs, is entirely missing from the Mishna. It was believed that information about the holiday was so commonplace there was no need to explain it.

The story is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, apocryphal books.

The miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is described in the Talmud, written 600 years after the events described in the books of Maccabees. After the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. Only a single container sealed by the High Priest was found. It contained only enough oil to keep the Temple menorah lit for a single day. They used it, but it burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready).

The festival is celebrated by a series of rituals performed every day throughout the eight day holiday. Some are family-based and others are communal.

The Menorah
Image: 'Golden Menorah
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The Menorah or Hanukiah is a unique nine-branched candelabrum. The typical Menorah consists of eight branched with an additional raised branch. The extra light is called a shamash (attendant) and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for use, because using the Hanukkah lights themselves is forbidden.

The lights can be candles or oil lamps. Electric lights are sometimes used. The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for lighting the house within, but to illuminate the house without, so that passersby are reminded of the holiday's miracle.

Kindling the Lights
Image: 'Lighting the Menorah
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Hanukkah lights should burn for at least one half hour after it gets dark. On the first night, the shamash is lit and may be used to light a candle on the right side of the Menorah. On the second night, the shamash and two candles are lit, and so on.

Typically, three blessings are recited during the festival. One the first night, Jews recite all three blessings. On all subsequent nights, they recite only the first two. The blessings are said before or after the candles are lit.

Each night after lighting the candles, the hymn, Hanerot Halalu, is recited, and the hymn, Maoz Tzur, is sung.

Other Customs

Image: 'Chanukah Kick Off!
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Singing Hanukkah songs is customary in many Jewish homes. Some families recite Psalms. It is common in North America and Israel to exchange gifts.

A large number of songs have been written on Hanukkah themes. Some of the best known are 'I Have a Hanukkah Menora', 'Eight Little Candles', 'Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel' and 'Chanukah, Oh Chanukah'.


Image: '
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The custom of eating foods fried or baked in oil (preferably olive oil) commemorates the miracle of a small flask of oil keeping the Temple flame alight for eight days.

Tradiitonal foods include potato pancakes (latkes), Sephardi and sufganiyot(jam-filled doughnuts), and bimuelos (fritters).

There is also a tradition of eating cheese products in honor of Judith and other women in the events of Hanukkah.

The Dreidel

The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top that children play with on hanukkah. Each side is imprinted with a Hebrew letter, maarking what the players win or lose.

The dreidel commemorates a game devised by the Jews to camouflage the fact they were studying the Torah, which was outlawed by Greeks. The Jews would gather in caves to study, posting a lookout. If Greek soldiers were spotted, the Jews would hide their scrolls and spin tops.


Image: 'gelt (365-338)
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Yiddish for 'money', gelt is often distributed to children to add to the holiday excitement. In the 1920s, American chocolatiers picked up on the gift/coin concept by creating chocolate gelt.

Previous post:  Christmas
Next post: Kwanzaa

Do you celebrate Hanukkah? Can you share some of your family traditions?


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