Hanukkah is a Hebrew word meaning “Dedication”. It is a celebrated holiday for the Jewish Community. It is also known as The Feast of Dedication, Festival of Lights, or Feast of the Maccabees. It is celebrated every 25th of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. This date usually falls in December in the Gregorian Calendar.
Hanukkah is a straight-eight days and nights celebration that pays tribute to the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. The feat was made possible by the Maccabean revolt against the Greek-Syrian army. The upsurge began when Mattathias the Hasmonean refused the worship of Greek gods. The day of Hanukkah is the commemorates victory of Judah Maccabee against the Seleucids.
According to the text the Maccabees only had ample oil to lit the Menorah for one night. However, the Menorah remained miraculously lit for 8 straight nights. From this miracle, the lighting of candles on each day of Hanukkah came to be. The kindling of candles is considered a sacred ritual
Even though Hanukkah is not officially in the Hebrew scriptures, it is one of the most celebrated traditional festivals. All Jewish people from every corner of the world pay respect to it.
How is Hanukkah Celebrated?
As stated earlier each of the eight days and nights of Hanukkah a candle is lit. The candles are placed on top of a Menorah. A Menorah is an ancient Hebrew lampstand dating back to the time of Moses. It was initially placed in the tabernacle when the Israelites were in the wilderness. Then it was stationed in the Temple of Jerusalem after the construction was completed. It is a symbol of worship and is dubbed as holy.
To commemorate the occasion, you can gift a Jewish friend a Traditional Menorah replica at this link.
For a more historical feel, there is also a Menorah designed with the symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel. The 12 tribes namely: Rueben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Naphtali, Dan, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin represent the ancestry of the Jewish people. In modern times only the tribe of Judah and Benjamin managed to thrive. You can view the uniquely designed history-themed Menorah here.
How are the Candles on the Menorah lighted?
In ancient times the Menorah is lighted with oil But as time passed, candles became an acceptable substitute. The Menorah is meant to shed light into the home. Hanukkah is an intimate family affair. All members residing in the home must be present when the act will be done.
The Menorah can be placed by the window, on top of a table, or just by the door. For precaution make sure the chosen location is far away from children’s reach. Also consider places where flammable materials are not present for safety purposes.
Before lighting the candles one must first recite the Hanukkah blessings. It consists of 3 blessings and all of them must be uttered on the first night. On the succeeding 7 nights only the first and second blessing needs to be recited.
On the first night of Hanukkah after the 3 blessings are said, light the center candle called the “Shamash”. “Shamash” in Hebrew means “servant”. It is also called the helper candle. This is the only candle to be used to light the others on every night of Hanukkah.
Once done, using your dominant hand light the first candle on the rightmost side. On the succeeding nights continue the same ritual. When adding candles on the Menorah the direction to follow is right to left. Then the order of kindling is from left to right.
Traditionally the candles should not be blown out. They should be allowed to die off on their own. However on busy days and if one has to leave, the lighting should be done after sunset. Let the candles stay on for at least 30 minutes before turning them off for safety purposes.
Keeping up with the times, there is also an electric-powered Menorah. It is lit with LED lights. You can gift a busy Jewish friend with this piece. It is both modern and traditional at the same time.
Enjoying Hanukkah with Kids
If you want to teach children the tradition of lighting a Menorah, there is also a child-friendly version in the market. It is a complete set with a 7 inch tall Menorah, multiple colored candles, and a guide on how to the 8-day kindling. It is also suitable for curious adults.
The merchandise also comes with the traditional spinning four-sided top Dreidel game. The four sides of the Dreidel top have the following Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hey, and Shin. These letters represent the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham”. In English, it means ” a great miracle happened here.”
The Dreidel game was meant to teach the Torah and Hebrew in secret during the times Jews were outlawed by the Greek King Antiochus IV.
The kid-friendly and family-oriented item can be viewed here.
Another tradition for kids is the giving of the Hanukkah gelt, “Gelt” is a Hebrew term for “Money”. In the original context, gelt was given in ancient times as a thank-you gift to laborers. Hanukkah celebrations then meant giving the itinerant workers extra pay. But in the celebration of modern-day Hanukkah, it comes in the form of chocolate. The treats are covered in shiny gold or silver-colored foil to represent a currency.
To get these chocolatey and creamy treats you can view them here.
Traditional Hanukkah Food
The celebration of Hanukkah like other festivities has traditional food on the menu. During the 8 day holiday the treats served by the Jewish communities are as follows:
1) Latkes: It is made up of ground potatoes mixed with onion, egg, flour, and seasonings that are shallow-fried. It is also known as potato pancakes.
2) Kugel: It is egg noodle pudding or casserole served as a side dish. One can choose if you want it with a savory or sweet flavor. A definite favorite on the Hanukkah meal table.
3) Matzo ball soup: Matzo balls are soup dumplings made from ground Matzo meal. Matzo meal is a traditional Jewish unleaved bread. It is also called Matzah or Matza. Chicken broth is often used to be paired up with Matzo balls to make a hot and tasty treat.
Since it is a tedious job you can opt to purchase a ready-made one. You can get and try out this jarred treat here.
4) Sufganiyot or Jelly-filled Donuts: The dough is usually filled with jelly or custard. It is deep-fried and coated with powdered sugar. A favored sweet indulgence of many that never disappoints.
5) Rugelach: A pastry with sweet fillings inside. It is usually shaped into a triangle. The fillings could be raisins, cinnamon, chocolate, and fruit preserves. A treat for the sweet lovers out there. Gift a friend with this unique Jewish pastry. Click the link for details.
6) Challah: A handcrafted braided bread that is always in attendance in Jewish celebrations. The dough is a mixture of flour, egg, water, butter, yeast, salt, sugar, and oil. It is topped with sesame or poppy seeds after it is cooked.
7) Knish: These are golden brown square or rectangular treats with fillings inside. The filling can be mashed potatoes, cheese, sweet potato, beans, or spinach. It is a good appetizer or can even be a suitable snack.
This intricate dish has a lot of history on it. Want to learn more about it? You can indulge in Laura Silver’s book entitled: Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food. Share and give the gift of knowledge to a friend on Hanukkah or any day. View the description of the book here.
What do you say during Hanukkah?
Wanting to greet a friend on Hanukkah? You can say the phrase “Hanukkah Sameach!” “Sameach” is the Hebrew term for “Happy” the meaning of the phrase “Happy Hanukkah”.
Another greeting ” Chag Sameach!” is more general in meaning which pertains to is “Happy Holiday”. Where “Chag” stands for the Hebrew word for “Holiday.”
But if you want to show off some Hebrew skills you can say “Chag Urim Sameach!”. Translated in English it means ” Happy Festival of Lights.” Where the word “Urim” is the Hebrew for “Light”.
What if a Jewish friend invited you to celebrate and witness a Menorah lighting? In order to be not clueless of the 3 Hanukkah blessings. Here is the rundown of it.
The first blessing (To be recited in all nights): Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, sheecheyanu v-ki’y’manu v-higianu la-z’man ha-zeh
Translated it means: Blessed are you, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, for giving is life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.
The second blessing (To be recited in all nights): Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, she-asah nisim la’avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.
Translated it means: Praised are You, Our God, Ruler of the universe, Who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in those ancient days at this season.
The third blessing (Only to be recited in the first night): Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech ha’olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu la’zman hazeh.
Translated it means: Praised are You, Our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has given us life and sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.
There you have it, the rundown of the Hanukkah festivity. Hopefully, this article helped you in understanding and appreciating the Jewish Holiday better.