A Dozen Essential Things To Know About Hanukkah

Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew and commemorates the success of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees in their victory in 165 B.C. over Antiochus, a Greco-Syrian monarch who had captured Jerusalem in 167 B.C.  He had banned Jews from practicing their religion. Hanukkah, therefore, celebrates freedom from oppression and the Jews reclaiming the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Hanukkah lasts for eight days/nights. During the battle against Antiochus’s forces, there was only enough oil to light the temple's menorah, for one night, but the oil lasted for eight. Today, Hanukkah is known as the “festival of lights.”

A Hanukkiah is a candelabra with nine candles. Eight candles are the same height, and one sits apart and is known as the shamash, meaning helper or attendant. It is used to light the other candles.

After sundown on each night of Hanukkah, the candles are lit with a candle being added right to left to each night. Each night, the candles are lit with the newest (left-most) lit first.

Money Used To Be the Small Gift of Choice

Jewish people used to give small amounts of money to one another for Hanukkah. But now more and more American Jews give gifts instead.

Jelly donuts, known as sufganiyot, are special Hanukkah treats. Food is fried in oil for Hanukkah as a symbol for the oil that burned for eight nights straight. Latkes (potato pancakes), apple fritters, brisket, kugel (egg noodle casserole), Hanukkah gelt, which takes the form of a chocolate coin covered in gold foil, are also served during Hanukkah.

Hanukkah celebrations begin on 25th day of the month of Kislev, the 9th month of the Jewish calendar. This year Dec. 7 is the first night of Hanukkah and Dec. 15 the last.

In November 2013, the U.S. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah were celebrated at the same time, the first such occasion in 125 years. This overlap, given the name Thanksgivukkah, will happen again in 2070. “So, for American Jews, we really feel the message of thanksgiving, it really resonates and especially at Hanukkah, because Hanukkah as well celebrates this victory over religious oppression,” Rabbi Mendell Lifshitz, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Idaho, said in 2013.

Legend has it that playing dreidels (a spinning top with four sides, each side featuring a different Hebrew letter) was a way in which the Jewish youth outsmarted the ancient Greek-Syrians, who had outlawed the study of the Torah. Jews would play with a spinning top while learning the Torah orally.

New York City Boasts World's Largest Menorah

What is considered the largest menorah is 36-feet tall and appears on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street at Grand Army Plaza near Central Park in Manhattan. Israeli artist Yaacov Agam designed the 4,000-pound structure. This year, the giant menorah will be lit after sunset every night of Hanukkah, starting on Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m.

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter participated in lighting a Hanukkah menorah on the Ellipse, just south of the White House. Each president since then has commemorated Hanukkah at the White House. Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush initiated a new tradition in 2001, when the Hanukkah menorah was lit for the first time in the White House residence.

Wishing someone a Happy Hanukkah! (“Hanukkah sameach!” in Hebrew) is considered the most popular way to pass on good wishes for the occasion. “By using these native phrases, you can send warm wishes to your Jewish friends, colleagues, and loved ones, showing your understanding and appreciation of their culture,” says the globalhighlights.com.