Celebrating Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights

Lighting the Hanukkah menorah

Hanukkah menorahs come in all shapes and sizes.
Hanukkah menorahs come in all shapes and sizes. | Source

Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song never fails to put a smile on my face and I’m not even Jewish. I know someone who is—he happens to be my husband. Hanukkah or Chanukah (it’s a matter of spelling) is the Festival of Lights and it is definitely one of my (or rather acquired) favorite Jewish holidays. There is something magical about lighting candles during the winter season—the light against the darkness, the warmth against the cold knocking at the window, the flickering glow casting glances, so indicative of life that sets the mood for the season. Beyond the act of lighting candles is a story that is never too stale to be told. It’s a story of triumph, a story that offers hope for the hopeless, a story of a miracle that goes beyond human reasoning. It’s a story of perseverance, of enduring faith and the triumph of the weak over the strong, good over evil.

History

The story of Hanukah can be traced back to 165 B.C. The land of Judea (or modern day Israel) was ruled by King Antiochus. He wanted desperately to wipe out the Jewish faith and began a campaign to force the Jewish people to give up their God and faith and worship Greek gods. He desecrated temples and those refused his orders were severely punished.

As in any story worthy of tradition, a heroic figure rises to the occasion. In this case-- Judah Maccabee--he acquired the nickname “hammer” for the way he fought. Together with his four brothers, they formed an army, recruiting any who shared the same conviction. For three years, this motley bunch of die-hards fought relentlessly and finally managed to defeat the mighty Greek/Syrian army. That in itself was quite a feat, considering they had very little resources to work with. Once they defeated the Greek/Syrian army, they set off to rededicate the desecrated Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They cleaned the temple of Greek symbols and idols and proceeded to rededicate the temple by lighting the lamp. For the Jewish people, a light has to be continuously burning in the temple to signify their enduring faith. To their disappointment, they found one tiny vase of olive oil, enough to burn one night.

While a new batch of oil was being prepared under the conditions of ritual purity, the little vase of olive oil miraculously burned for eight nights until a fresh supply of oil was made. By any measure, it was a miracle and the Jews commemorate the occasion by lighting the menorah for eight nights. To this day, it remains one of the more popular Jewish traditions.

Celebration

Hanukkah celebration begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Jewish calendar. It typically falls anytime in November or December and sometimes, it happens within days of Christmas. To celebrate this joyous occasion, Hanukkah menorahs are often displayed prominently near windows, so the lights can be seen and the miracle remembered.

Hanukkah Menorah

Menorah simply means a special arrangement of candles, or a candelabra, if you will. During Hanukkah, a Hanukkah menorah is used instead of a temple menorah. The Hanukkah menorah is inspired by the lamp that was found in the temple, known as Ner Tamid,  which means Eternal Flame. A temple menorah has seven candles while a Hanukkah menorah has nine. Now, if you’re thinking—eight nights of candle lighting and nine candles? Every Hanukkah menorah has a Shamash candle or “servant” candle that is used to light the candle each night. It is often found in the middle of the menorah and often higher or branching out perpendicularly from the main structure. A typical Hanukkah menorah resembles a tree, with four branches on each side and the Shamash in the middle as mentioned.

Although olive oil was originally used, it is now replaced by colorful candles.

Lighting of Hanukkah Menorah

On the very first night of Hanukkah, one candle is lit and on the second night, two candles are lit and this continues for eight nights, until all eight candles are lit and burning brightly—quite a spectacular sight. The candles have to be lit from right to left.

The lighting of the candles is often done as soon as the first stars appear. As family members congregate to commemorate, special blessings are recited as an act of remembrance of God’s protection and power. Basically, it’s a thanksgiving prayer, thanking God for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few and the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”

A Dreidel is a spinning top.

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Latkes and Sufganiyot

To further reiterate the importance of oil in this celebration, foods fried in oil are eaten. If you love fried food, it is the season to indulge without feeling guilty. Latkes are fried potato pancakes. Eat them with apple-sauce, horseradish or ketchup or plain—they’re so delicious, you can’t just eat one. Sufganiyot or fried jelly doughnuts are eaten too.

Spin the Dreidel

“I’ve a little dreidel/I made it out of clay/And when it dried and ready/A dreidel I shall play.”

This popular kid’s song is often sung during this time and rightly so—kids love to spin the dreidel and maybe, win a couple of Hanukkah gelts or even real money. A dreidel has four sides, each inscribed with a Hebrew letter (nun, gimmel, hei and shin) which translates to “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”

Hanukkah Gelts and Gifts

Just so the Jewish kids don’t suffer from Christmas envy, they also enjoy getting gifts, one for each night. Now, that’s eight gifts, enough to rival the “twelve days of Christmas.” Of courses, that’s my take. Hanukkah gelts (also known as Hanukkah money) are also given. Getting and giving gifts is always a great way to share love and blessings.

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Recipes:

Potato Latkes


Another Potato Latke recipe from a Jewish fellow.


Martha Stewart's Sufganiyot



Other Hubs on use of Oils



Castor Oil: Home Remedies for Beauty and Health Purposes


How to Use of Aromatherapy to Heal Body, Mind and Soul.


Best of Kitchen Oils

More by this Author


Comments 21 comments

Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 6 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

What a wonderfully informative Hub. I remember being somewhere on holiday a number of years ago where this festival was being celebrated - I simply can't remember where! :) I now know a lot more about it than I did then.


samsons1 profile image

samsons1 6 years ago from Tennessee

up & beautiful! well written with a lot of information on the Jewish celebration. I'm Christian, but I love the Jewish holidays...


einron profile image

einron 6 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

I learn something new and that is, a sufganiyot. The potato latke looks appetizing.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Gordon, good to see u again. Thanks for visiting and commenting.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Samson, thanks for dropping by with your contribution. I love Jewish holidays too--Jesus is Jewish. I'm a Christian but I love everything Jewish.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

einron, good to see u again. Glad we can all learn something new. Enjoy your weekend.


ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 6 years ago from USA

Well done, Angeline and I am guilty of being envious, because I am planning to write about Hanukkah in my line of hubs about Jewish holidays, but you did it so good, simply excellent! Oh, I am joking about being jealous! I am very glad that you gave a tribute to Hanukkah and in such a great way! Thank you!


ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 6 years ago from USA

Angeline, don't be sorry, you did a great job and I was just kidding about being envious. I am still going to write about Hanukkah and I will link your hub to mine, because they will be different in a way and will be adding to each other. I love Hanukkah songs, so I will put a couple for sure!

And thank you for your friendship!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Vera, that would be so awesome. Looking forward to your Hanukkah hub--maybe one on how to make a menorah--I have some that my kids make, in case you want a picture of a homemade hanukkha menorahs. Love to you and yours.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago

I've learned so much about hanukkha from this hub. Also, I love Adam Sandler's hanukkha song. I had heard it many times before, yet it still made me laugh. :)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Om, Adam Sandler's song never fails to crack me up. I can hear it over and over again. Thanks for dropping by with your comments.


Money Glitch profile image

Money Glitch 6 years ago from Texas

You have done an awesome with this hub. I've learned quite a bit about Hanukkah via friends that celebrate it, however you have provided the pictures of objects that my brain could not envision based on their descriptions. For example Dreidel spinning top is absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing, rating up and awesome. :)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Thanks, MG, for rating it up. You're right, pictures always help us to visualize. There are some really stunning antique dreidels out there.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines

Wow, what a wonderful hub! I really enjoyed reading this. I have read about Hannukah from novels before but this is the first time I read it from somebody who actually practices it. You must have a wonderful mix of traditions in your family, Jewish and Asian.

Rated up and beautiful!


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

This is new for me. I never knew about this before. I learn much from you. I hope this celebration could increase my knowledge about worldwide culture. Good work, my friend. ~prasetio


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Jill, always a pleasure to find you at my hubs. I always love cultural differences and in my family, we have plenty of that. Thanks for beautiful comments and for rating it up.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Prasetio for dropping by with your contribution. It's always good to learn about other cultures.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Angel, Can you be converted to become Jewish?, well I learned a lot from your hub. In Asia, we also light incense, similarities. There is something beautiful in the lighting of candles, I agree. Maita


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Maita, I can convert to Judaism but I converted to Christianity a long time ago. I figure that since Jesus was Jewish, I've the best of both. Thanks for your generous support, visiting 4 hubs at one go. Have a great weekend.


Rodric29 profile image

Rodric29 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I was writing a Christmas article and came across this article because I wanted to reference an article that explained Hanukkah. Your article does what I wanted, so I linked to it.

This is written wonderfully and kept my short attention span interested the entire time through. I want to light the Menorah this year along with decorating my Christmas Tree!!

Thank you for you explanation and I loved the Adam Sandler note at the beginning. knowing what the symbols are associated with Hanukkah also makes me want to celebrate that holiday because my religious heritage is from Judaism being that I am a Christian. I voted this up, shared it and linked my article to it.

Good Job Anglwu!!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 3 years ago Author

Rodric, glad you find this useful. It's always fun to celebrate Hanukkah. Enjoy it. Thanks.

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