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Hanukkah – The Festival of Lights

Updated on December 7, 2012

Since a lot of my friends were or are of the Jewish faith I decided to write about this interesting Festival of Lights since it comes right before the Christmas celebration beginning with tomorrow December 8th.

As the centuries have come and gone this holiday has seen many different changes and a lot of traditions and celebrations have been added to this holiday. Actually Hanukkah dates back to 167 B.C. Many Hanukkah traditions were celebrated by the Jewish people in Europe during the Middle Ages. It was at this time that the remembrance of martyrdom for the Jewish faith was particularly emphasized. An important part of this celebration is the menorah. There were seven branches for oil in ancient menorahs just like in the menorah which was used in the rededication of the temple by the Maccabees. From this time stems the fact that there are eight days of Hanukkah since the small amount of oil which was in this menorah burned for eight days and nights. It is thought that the nine branched menorah dates back to the first century and that it had one branch for every night that the oil burned and had one branch for a shamash which was the candle that was used to light all of the other candles. Modern day menorahs have real candles and some are lit by electric lights.

Also dating back to the Middle Ages is the giving of what is known as Hanukkah gelt or coins or money. This tradition comes from the time when during the celebration of the Festival of Lights coins were given to the Jewish teacher. The very roots of this custom go back to the era of the Maccabees who would mint coins in the era in which they controlled the Second Temple in Jerusalem dating from 167 to 70 B.C.E. The minting of Jewish money was looked upon as a symbol of independence. However since during the Middle Ages there were no Jewish coins then during Hanukkah those who gave money to the teacher were highlighting the importance of Jewish education.

Although tops are considered to be traditional European toys it is the dreidel which became an early symbol of Hanukkah. Legend has it that at one time when it was illegal to study the Torah during the time before the Maccabees reclaimed Jerusalem the Jewish people who wanted to secretly study the Torah would pretend that they were playing with the dreidel if Hellenic soldiers came upon them. Rabbis who administered Judaic law during the Middle Ages allowed gambling and other games at Hanukkah so playing the dreidel became popular.

During modern times Hanukkah is celebrated by eating fried foods which include potato pancakes know as latkes and doughnuts as oil is one of the symbols of this holiday. In the Middle Ages the Jewish people linked Hanukkah celebrations to the story of Judith who was known to fight for the Jewish people by feeding cheese to one of their enemy’s leaders. As a result of which the cheese made him awful thirsty and so he drank too much wine. Afterwards Judith cut off his head and so during the Middle Ages this act was commemorated by eating cheese and other kinds of dairy products.

All of these are symbols of the Festival of Lights. When it begins each of the eight nights of Hanukkah a candle is lit in the menorah or candelabra called a ”hanukkiyah” and the special ninth candle or ”shammash” also known as the servant candle is used to light the other candles. Quite often the shammash is found in the center of the other candles and has a higher position. Each night an extra candle gets lit so that on the final eighth night all of the candles are lit. There is a special blessing to thank God that is said before and after the lighting of the candles and a special Jewish hymn is sung. It is traditional to put the menorah in the front window of the house so that those who pass by will see and remember the story of Hanukkah. This is also a time of giving and receiving presents and there are gifts given on each night. During this time lots of games are played and the most popular is ”dreidel” (Yiddish) or ”sivivon” (Hebrew). The dreidel top has four sides and on each side is a Hebrew letter.

To everyone who is celebrating the Festival of Lights – Happy Hanukkah.


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    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Fantastic as I knew some of the religious heritage but learned so much more by reading this hub.

      The dreidel history as a way to disguise the real use, heroine Judith and the connection to the tradition of eating fried prepared foods.

      Great job with this one . Voting up and sharing.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is so interesting Gypsy. I knew that Hanukkah was a Jewish tradition but little else. The history surrounding their faith is inspirational. Thank you for sharing..Cheers.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      So glad you liked reading about the Hanukkah traditions. I learned through my friends but celebrating Christmas and not having my friends near me now I thought it would be great to refresh my memory and pass this on to others. Thanks for the vote and share.

      Glad you liked reading about the Hanukkah tradition Ruby. Imagine a never ending holiday. One of my friends got in touch recently and because of a marriage in one family and new in-laws coming in they now celebrate both 8 days of Hanukkah and 12 days of Christmas. I think I'd need 30 days of R&R after that.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

      Thanks for writing this great piece of history. There was so much I didn't know!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      HaHa, Isn't it wonderful to honor everyone's faith, by spreading their traditions, it brings us all closer, and i agree you will need some R&R. Cheers my friend..

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting to learn about the history and significance of the Hanukkah festival Rasma. We have the festival of lights celebrated here as Diwali, which is the celebration of the victory of good over evil.

      Thanks for sharing this Jewish tradition. Voted up and interesting. Sharing.

    • ananceleste profile image

      Anan Celeste 4 years ago from California

      I am so glad I read this hub. Tradition is such a beautiful thing, specially when family and friends come together to learn their heritage. As a judeo/christian is a privilege to learn the old traditions. And in return teach it to my children and some day, my children's children. Great Hub!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I love that the Jewish Hanukkah and the Christian Christmas are celebrated at the same time of year. Somehow makes me feel we are more united than separate. Happy Hanukkah and Peace on Earth.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Very informative, I've learned quite a lot about the Jewish traditions here. The more we learn about the people we share this world with, the better we can understand and try to live in peace. Great work, up and awesome.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Hope all your holidays are wonderful.

      Glad I could inform you about Hanukkah. Used to be with my friends in N.Y. when they celebrated so need a refresher too since now I'm celebrating Christmas only.

      Ruby I'm telling you even though my friends remained behind in N.Y. when my hubby Martin's mom was still alive I found us celebrating two Christmases and two New Years because she was Orthodox and their Christmas and New Years come in January and afterwards I was exhausted. Don't know what would happen if Hanukkah was thrown in too. lol

      Interesting to hear about your celebration of lights - Diwali. Will read up on it. Thanks for the vote and share.

      Hanukkah is an interesting and wonderful celebration. Used to share with my friends back in N.Y. and they in turn some of my Christmas. It is good to know all the traditions.

      So true Kathleen. I am of the cut that I pick up traditions here and there. In N.Y. it was Hanukkah with friends and Christmas with family and here in Riga picked up some traditions for the Orthodox Christmas celebrations which come in January. Happy Hanukkah to you too.

      So right understanding other peoples celebrations and traditions is a great part of unity tobusiness. Thanks for the vote.

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