Put on your yarmulke, it’s time for – wait, what exactly is Hanukkah about? Or is it Chanukah? Some have argued that there are over 16 ways of spelling the name for the Jewish festival of lights.
However you choose to spell it, Hanukkah is a holiday commemorating a miraculous event that occurred many, many years ago (around 200 B.C.) when the Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem. At the time, the Syrian-Greeks had been fighting a war against Judaism. They infiltrated the Jewish Temple, contaminating all of the Temple’s oils in the process. Eventually, a small group of Jewish rebels – called the Maccabees – defeated the Syrian-Greeks. When the victorious Maccabees returned to the vandalized Temple to light its Menorah (in an effort to purify the Temple), only one tiny flask of oil was found. This flask of oil was only enough to last them one night, but – astoundingly – it lasted for eight. Eight crazy nights (okay, okay, I’ll stop with the Adam Sandler references, already).
On Hanukkah, Jews around the world celebrate the amazing story of the Maccabees. Proud of the miracles that God brought the Jewish people at that time, we too light a Menorah on Hanukkah to place near our windows.
We also eat fried foods like potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly donuts (sufganiyot). Not only because let’s face it, they’re delicious, but to commemorate the miraculous oil that lasted us eight days. This time can also elicit an ongoing (but not as serious) battle between those who enjoy their potato pancakes with applesauce as opposed to sour cream. And if you think any of those are weird combinations, trust us, this Hanukkah thing’s been around long enough for us to experiment a little with our cuisine.
The Syrian-Greeks sought to convert the Jewish people. To avoid being caught studying the Torah, spinning tops known as dreidels were used to disguise religious practices. As soon as a Syrian-Greek authority figure would drop in for a visit, the Jewish people quickly covered up what they were doing by playing a game of dreidel. Today, the game remains a fun way for children and adults alike to earn and eat lots of chocolate gelt. The dreidel’s letters, four in all, comprise a Hebrew acronym for A Great Miracle Happened There (or Here, for those who live in Israel). The letter on which the dreidel lands determines one’s earnings in chocolate.
Hanukkah has earned a reputation as the festival of lights, and for good reason. The holiday can teach us about the importance of sharing our own “light” and warmth with others, and reminds us that miracles are still capable of occurring every day – you just have to look for them.