The Festival of Lights is more popularly known as Hanukkah – the celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its destruction by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE. We are all familiar with the eight-day celebration and the lighting of the menorah candles. Each year the dates change because the holiday is based on the lunar calendar; however, the holiday almost always falls between late-fall and mid-winter months. But the celebration always lasts eight days. Why you ask? There is a historical relevance. The Maccabees successfully rebelled against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. According to the Talmud, the Temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah miraculously burned for eight days – even though there was only enough of the oil for one day’s lighting. The eight candles represent that miracle.
Whether you have a co-worker or friend that celebrates Hanukkah, it’s great to be well rounded and knowledgeable about the eight-day celebration.
The Truth Behind the Dreidel – During the 2nd century B.C.E., learning about the Torah was considered a crime by the Greek-Syrian law. Historians have found evidence that the crime was punishable by death. However, when there is a will, there is a way. Jewish children would find caves to study the Torah in, but if the patrolmen passed by, the children would trick them by drawing out their dreidels and playing with them.
The Misconception of Gelt – The word ‘gelt’ is the Yiddish word that means money. In recent years, the chocolate coins that resemble gelt have become a new adoption of the holiday. Originally, people were encouraged to give children money as a gesture to encourage Jewish studies. During the 20th century, an American chocolate company decided to create coin shaped chocolate pieces to give to children versus actual monies.
The Lighting – You’ve probably heard two terms being used, when the lighting is being discussed. But which is it menorah or hanukkiyah? In actuality, the two terms are interchangeable throughout the eight-day celebration, but there is a real difference. A hanukkiyah is a type of candelabra that is specifically designed to light the candles on Hanukkah. The hanukkiyah has eight candles in a line and one candle – and that is called the shamash. A menorah is another type of candelabra that has seven branches that was used in the first temple in Jerusalem. The biggest difference between the two is that the hanukkiyah is only lit during the Festival of Lights, but the menorah has a much bigger symbolic representation for Judaism.
The Spelling – Okay, so which is it – Chanukah, Hannukah, Hannukkah, or Channukah? Fact is unless you’re spelling it in Hebrew, there’s no real correct spelling.
Other important things to know and be familiar with are the delicious traditional foods that go hand-in-hand with Hanukkah. Before you go into an early cardiac arrest, pace yourself because just about everything is fried.
Latkes are fried potato pancakes – and are quite possibly the most popular Hanukkah food. The pancakes are made from shredded potatoes mixed with onion, egg, flour, and seasonings. Once all of the ingredients are combined, they are formed into small pancakes and fried in oil. Crispy latkes are served with sour cream and applesauce on the side.If you’re interested in a modern twist on the traditional latke, check out these great latke options.
Dairy products, especially cheese, are big celebratory foods. Many Jewish families make their own cheese from scratch and feast on the delicacy over the eight-day celebration.
The dessert menu is a long list of just about anything fried and dusted with powdered sugar. In consideration of your time, we’ve narrowed down the list to some of the more popular dishes.
Tostones are fried plantains. Instead of coating a latke with sugar and jelly, a tostone provides a new spin on dessert.
Lemon Olive Oil Cupcakes are another unique dessert that’s often ate during the Hanukkah celebration. While you’ll hear a lot about olive oil cakes and cupcakes, infusing the recipe with lemon will provide an edgy citrus spin on things.
Spiced Hot Chocolate is a growingly popular drink that’s usually put together towards the end of the eight-day celebration. Since gelt has become a widely disbursed gift for children, there is usually a ton of gelt leftover. Melting the gelt and adding nutmeg, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, and milk will create a delicious celebratory drink to enjoy with loved ones.
Just like Christmas, Hanukkah also has a common felt nostalgia that’s associated with sitting together as a family and watching a movie. Sometimes the best memories, during a holiday, are created when families are casually together and enjoying each other’s time. Curious as to what films are making the Hanukkah watch list? Wonder no more –
Ida – Film that chronicles the story of an 18-year-old orphan, raised in a nunnery in post-World War II Poland, connecting for the first time with her Jewish roots. The movie won an Academy Award.
Springtime for Hitler – This film features the great Mel Brooks. The comedy was Brooks’ first film and one of his funniest roles. Who doesn’t love a great Mel Brooks film?
A Serious Man – The movie features the Coen Brothers. While there are many stereotypical references throughout the film (such as “Jews in showbiz”), there is a definite brotherly love that’s felt by the audience.
The Freaks and Geeks – Okay, so even though the series doesn’t necessarily have a ton of Jewish mentions, the series was launched by Jewish filmmakers Paul Fieg and Judd Apatow – and they got some major help from Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jason Segel.
Hanukkah is a celebration with a number of interesting historical and revolutionized components. It’s evident that the eight-day celebration is like other holidays, in that it’s evolved over the years, and its celebrations are traditionalized by each family’s unique persona. Knowing more about the traditions and celebrations that others share together is a great way to also learn about our history.