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The History of Hanukkah

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Hanukkah is a holiday celebrated by Jewish people every year between the end of November and the end of December. It begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, a date which varies from year to year on the Western calendar.

Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration commemorating a miracle that occurred in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. That year, a small group of Jews known as the Maccabees (which means "hammer") fought for and successfully won religious freedom from the oppressive Syrians. During the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, there was only enough oil to light the N'er Tamid, or eternal light, for one night. By some miracle, however, the sacred lamp burned for eight days. Thus, Hanukkah has come to signify a triumph of a people with a burning determination to preserve its identity. Hanukkah, in fact, means "dedication" in Hebrew and is also known as the "Feast of Dedication" in addition to the "Feast (or Festival) of Lights."

To honor the eight-day oil miracle, Jewish families light one candle for each night of Hanukkah every night - one candle on the first night, two candles on the second night, and so on. A nine-branch menorah holds all of the candles, with the ninth candle used to light the other candles.

In addition to the lighting of the menorah, other traditions include spinning the dreidel, eating oily foods, and giving gifts and Hanukkah gelt. The dreidel, a four-sided top with the Hebrew letters "nun," "gimel," "hey" and "shin," is spun by family members to determine how many nuts, raisins, tokens, or chips are won based on the value assigned to each letter. Nun is nothing, gimel is all, hey is half, and shin requires the player to add a token into the pot.

Oily foods, such as doughnuts, pancakes and latkes, or potato pancakes, are eaten to remember the flask of oil that miraculously burned the sacred lamp for eight days. And small gifts including Hanukkah gelt, or money, are given to children every night.

Happy Hanukkah!

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