As the holiday season gets into full swing, many people aren’t celebrating Christmas or St. Nicholas Day, but they are celebrating Hanukkah. Hanukkah, or the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins on the evening of Dec. 6 and goes through Dec. 14 this year. Throughout the world, many people who practice Judaism will begin to light menorahs and give gifts, but why? What is Hanukkah all about anyway?
What is Hanukkah and How Many Days is it Celebrated?
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday. The word “hanukkah” means “dedication,” which ties back to the reason the holiday exist – the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E.
In 168 B.C.E., the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. Of course, the people of the Jewish faith were upset by the conquering of their Temple, but many of them were afraid to fight back. The Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death in 167 B.C.E.
Antiochus also ordered the Jews to worship the Greek gods, eat pork and bow down to an idol – all of which are forbidden in the Jewish faith. Mattathias, a High Priest in the Jewish faith, refused the Greek officers’ demands. He and his sons then turned on the Greek officers and killed them all and were forced to hide away in the mountains. Once the Jewish people had regained control, they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. However, they found that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the temple.
To their surprise, the oil actually lasted for eight days and eight nights. Because of this minor miracle, this is how many days the people of Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah. Now, many people use candles in place of the oil. One candle is lit each night of Hanukkah (one the first night, two the second, three the third and so on).
What is the Holiday’s Significance?
According to Jewish law, Hanukkah is actually one of the less important holidays in the Jewish faith, even though it is the most well-known. This is likely because of its timing. Hanukkah starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which makes it fall close to the Christian holiday, Christmas.
Because many people of the Jewish faith live in predominantly Christian societies, the activities surrounding Hanukkah have become almost Christmas-like. Jewish children receive gifts for Hanukkah )one gift each night). Many people believe that this is because Jewish parents don’t want their children feeling left out of the many Christmas festivities going on around them.
Another common Hanukkah practice (outside gift-giving) is lighting the menorah every night of Hanukkah. There are eight candles and an additional candle is lit each of the eight nights. Many Jewish families also play the Dreidel game. Hebrew letters are written on each side of the Dreidel, and it is almost like playing with a di. “Gelt,” or chocolate coins are a popular part of the game. Last, but certainly not least, many people of the Jewish faith eat fried foods during Hanukkah. By eating things fried in oil, people remember the oil that burned for eight days.
Millions of people will be celebrating Hanukkah on Monday through Monday, Dec. 14. Some kids will receive daily gifts, families will light menorahs, eat fried foods and learn more about their faith each day.