CHARLOTTE – Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that lasts for eight days and nights starting on the 24th day of the month of Kislev to the 1st day of the month of Tevet on the Jewish religious calendar. This year it will begin on the evening of Sunday, December 18, and end on the evening of Monday, December 26. Hanukkah is a festive time that has been celebrated for nearly 2,200 years. It started when a small Jewish army of rebels called the Maccabees toppled a Greek-Syrian occupation of Israel.
The definition of Hanukkah is “dedication,” and after the Maccabees took over the Greek ruler, they were able to re-dedicate the Jewish temp in Jerusalem, which was believed to have been desecrated by the Greeks. During the re-dedication of the temple, the Maccabees burned a special oil lamp with seven branches called a menorah. During this time, it was they believed they had enough oil for only one night, but miraculously the oil lasted for eight nights until they could make more oil.
Today Hanukkah is celebrated by saying special prayers and lighting the menorah. The menorah has one flame that sits higher than the rest; this is called the shamash, or “attendant.” It is the first of the candles to be lit, and then each continuing night a person lights the shamash and then uses it to light the other flames: one on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second, and so on until all the lights are lit on the final night. The menorah is supposed to represent a window or doorway so others can see it. It is a way to publicize the miracle of the oil. The oil is also used during this time to cook with. Many special foods are cooked in oil, like latkes, a potato pancake that is topped with sour cream and apple sauce.
During this time many Jewish families follow traditions to celebrate the holiday. One tradition that is followed with the lighting of the menorah candles is blessings. Each night when the candles are lit, there are three special blessings; one is said on the first night, and two follow for each of the eight nights. These blessings are recited and are a very important part of the lighting of the menorah. On the first night of Hanukkah, a blessing is said to mark the beginning and joy of the Jewish life; the other two blessings said on the following nights bless the candles and then express thanksgiving for the miracle of deliverance that Hanukkah brings. The three blessings are very important to the tradition and are one of the most important parts of the celebration.
Playing dreidel games is another centuries-old tradition. A dreidel is a four-sided top that spins and is used to play various games. Each side of the dreidel is stamped or carved with a Hebrew letter: nun, gimel, hey, or shin. The letters each represent a word in the Hebrew phrase “nes gadol haya sham,” which means “a great miracle happened there.” Each player spins the top, and then they win or lose gambling pieces, which are often small bits of candy, according to the letter they land on.
Hannukah is a holiday celebration that is focused on togetherness and celebration. Families join to play games with the dreidel and have delicious meals prepared with oils along with the lighting of the candles and joining together to sing. The tradition of Hanukkah is a joyous Jewish holiday that recalls the miracle of the hard-fought victory over religious oppression. The historic event sparked Hanukkah traditions that last to this day.