by Hana Ulep

Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish holiday that celebrates and commemorates the long journey that the Jewish people took to free themselves from Syria’s slavery and control. To honor this, for eight days, Jews light a candle in the menorah to symbolize the miracle of the candle that burned for eight days straight with only a small amount of oil to keep it burning. This holiday is also celebrated by gift-giving and receiving for each of the eight days. Hanukkah can be honored in many different ways, with a variety of traditions that make each family’s holiday unique. The date of this holiday varies, following the Jewish calendar, but is almost always in the month of December. This year, it’s taking place from December 6th to December 13th.

The story of Hanukkah begins in Jerusalem, where the Jews were free to live peacefully and worship their one God in the holy temple; but when King Antiochus took over, they were enslaved and forced to worship Greek gods instead of their own god. The Jews refused, and created a group of people called the Maccabees to fight against Antiochus, with Judah Maccabee leading the army. After three years of fighting for their land and control, the Jews won the war. Once they got back to the temple, they rid all the Greek symbols and restored the temple with their Judaic ways and practices. To celebrate their victory, the Jews lit an oil lamp. They only had enough oil to keep the candle burning for a short period, but the lamp stayed lit for eight full days, which is why today we honor this by lighting a candle in the menorah each night of the eight days. The triumph of the war and the miracle of the lamp are what the Jews remember and celebrate today with traditions to honor it on this holiday.

Besides the religious traditions that come along with Hanukkah, there are many fun activities that make the eight days even more celebratory. Delicious foods like latkes (potato pancakes), jelly donuts, gelt (chocolate coins) are some of the classic and enjoyable Hanukkah treats. The significance for the latkes and donuts is that they are cooked in oil, representing the oil that the Jews used to keep their lamp burning. There are also some very fun Hanukkah games, the most well-known called Dreidel. This game is played by spinning a dreidel, a top with a Hebrew letter on each of the four sides. These four Hebrew letters are Nun, Gimmel, Hey, and Shin, all of these having a different meaning which directs the player on what to do during their turn. The goal of this game is to collect all the coins in the middle, before losing the coins one already has.
On Hanukkah, candles are lit and a prayer is recited as to remember the journey and struggle of the Jews, and the lamp lit to celebrate the victory. This holiday is a big part of the Jewish culture and is a wonderful celebration. It is not only a time to commemorate the Jew’s journey, but a time to feel grateful and connected with family and friends all over the world. H

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