Menorah’s, Dreidels, Latkes, “Happy Hanukkah, Monica”
You’ll have seen a post I wrote before, “So What Actually Is A Jewish Wedding?“. It was so lovely hearing feedback and reading comments on how much people didn’t actually know about Jewish weddings. Now I’m obviously bias but they literally are So.Much.Fun. Chatting to a friend the other day, I enjoyed telling her how the upcoming Jewish festival of Hanukkah is not a “Jewish Christmas” but actually something much different. If you’ve no clue as to what it is, perhaps you may be a ‘Friends’ fan and will remember Ross dressing up as the ‘holiday Armadillo’, (which by the way is nothing to do with it, ha!). With almost 16 million Jewish people in the world, there’s more people than you think celebrating. So given my experience, here’s a simple, shorter version of what Hanukkah is.
When Is It?
Each year, Hanukkah starts around the same time but usually on a different day. This year, in 2016, Hanukkah will start Saturday, December 24 and finish in the evening of Sunday, January 1. This is the first time since 1978 that Christmas and Hanukkah actually overlap.
How Long Does It Last?
It’s celebrated for a total of eight days.
What Does Is Commemorate?
It’s nothing to do with Christmas. In fact, Jewish people have no connection to Christmas as it celebrates the birth of Jesus. Jewish people don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God and the whole concept is incompatible with Jewish theology. Some Jewish people do still have a tree and from a commercial point of view may buy gifts, but you won’t find any nativity scenes or crosses. In fact, what Hanukkah celebrates actually happened before what Christmas represents.
What is does do is commemorate the victory of the Maccabees (the leaders of a Jewish rebel army that took control of the Judea land) over the Syrian-Greek rulers of Jerusalem and the subsequent rededication of the Temple in 164 BCE. It’s believed that a miracle happened. When the temple was rededicated, one day’s worth of oil burned brightly for eight days. These eight days are the duration of Hanukkah.
What Happens During Hanukkah?
Jewish people sometimes may experience the occasional ‘you don’t get presents because you don’t celebrate Christmas’ from non-Jewish children at school. I’ve heard the reply ‘we get presents everyday for eight days’. Well, whilst there’s sometimes some element of reality in that, the act of gift giving is something relatively new, pressured by society.
A special Hanukkah menorah is used. This is a candle with eight holders plus a holder in the centre which is used to light each candle one extra a night. On the first night of Hanukkah, one candle is lit. Two are lit on the second, and so on, until all eight are lit on the eighth night. Candles are added from the right, but lit beginning with the first one on the left (representing the current night). Often there are blessings said each night when lighting.
Why Is Food So Important?
A big tradition is eating fried foods like doughnuts which are supposed to remind you of the miraculous oil (that burned for eight days way back when). Often a latke is eaten too. These are so yummy, sort of a potato pancake fried in oil. We also like to enjoy lots of typical Israeli foods like an Israeli salad, lots of smoked salmon, cream cheese and bagels. You can see why I struggle with my weight, ha! In terms of keeping Kosher, whilst this is often something many people do everyday, I do know some people who only eat Kosher during festivals. This means Kosher meat from a Kosher butchers, Kosher wines blessed by Rabbi’s and no pork or shellfish. Personally, I chose to just not eat pork and shellfish ever but do eat ordinary chicken from the supermarket.
You’ve probably heard of “spin the dreidel.” It’s a four-sided spinning top. It has some Hebrew letters on each side to stand for the Hebrew phrase ‘Nes Gadol Hayah Sham’, translated to “A great miracle happened there”. A game of spinning the dreidel basically means each person takes it in turn to spin. Each player puts something (usually money, sweets or nuts) into a pot and whatever the dreidel lands on is what they win. Nun is nothing, Gimel means the player takes everything. Hay means take half of the post and shin means the player adds to the pot.
Will you be doing anything special this Christmas or Hanukkah? Xx