By Dorothy Le–
It’s a celebration rich in history and tradition, and with a span of over 2,000 years. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight day celebration for Jews to commemorate the Maccabees victory over Syrian armies in 165 B.C.E., as well as the rededication of Jerusalem’s temple.
Even though Hanukkah is one of the most cherished holidays, it is not actually mentioned in the Bible, while the smaller Jewish holidays are. Instead, Hanukkah stemmed from the events that found in the collection of writings called Apocrypha, which details the complete siege of Jerusalem by the Syrian Empire, through abolishing Judaism, outlawing Shabbat, and the practice of circumcision. The outcome also included forcing the Jews to choose between worshipping the Greek gods or punishment by death.
Then the Maccabees family, led by an elderly man named Mattathias and his son, Judah, gathered soldiers and lead a revolt against the Syrian empire, winning two major battles. Through these triumphs, the holiday of Hanukkah emerged to celebrate the Jewish heroism, overcoming persecution, and the preservation of their religion. The core of the holiday is to protect their faith in order to pass it down to the next generation.
The most recognized tradition in Hanukkah is the lighting of the eight candles. According to the legend, upon entering the Jerusalem temple and began to reclaim it from the Greeks, the Maccabees discovered a single jar of oil that was adequate for a day use. A messenger was sent out to retrieve more oil, which took eight days, yet the oil still burn within that time span. Thus, rabbis dedicate the burning of the eight candles (menorah) to this event. This holiday continued to be celebrated year after year and it wasn’t until the 1920s that the act of giving gifts was added in.
Today, Hanukkah is mainly celebrated in the homes of families and begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, then observed for eight days. As the candles are being lit, any member of the household would chant or recite blessings, with each blessing holding a significant meaning. Regarding worship, there is the main prayer, called Amidah, and then the blessings after meals, called the Birkat HaMazon. Passages from the Torah are also read out loud, including Numbers 6:22-8:4, which narrates the dedication of the tabernacle by the Israelites in the desert.
A common food eaten during the holiday is the latkes, which are potato pancakes, and sufganiyot, which are jelly donuts. Again, foods which are cooked in oil are to pay tribute to the miracle of oil lasting for eight days.
And the dreidel, a spinning top used in a Hanukkah gambling game, is a prized symbol of the holiday. Each of the four sides of the top bear a Hebrew letter: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. The players put coins, candy, buttons, or other small objects into a pot and each player spins their turn. Each letter stands for an action of the player to take: nun (take nothing), gimmel (take everything), hey (take half), shin (put one in). Throughout history, the letters have also been reinterpreted to represent the first letter of each word in the Hebrew statement “Neis gadoi hayah sham,” which means “A great miracle has happened here.”
Through an epic historical background of rescuing their religion and miracles, Hanukkah signifies a proud custom and tradition with future generations to share with.