Hanukkah is often regarded as the Jewish Christmas, in fact it has very little to do with Christmas, except for the proximity in date to the Christian celebration. Hanukkah is actually a festival that marks the significance of a miracle that was perceived to have occurred…
The Story of Hanukkah
When Alexander The Great conquered Egypt, Palestine and Syria, he allowed the people who lived there to continue observing their own religions. However, a century later, under the rule of Antiochus IV, this all changed and there was a move towards the oppression and persecution of those who followed the Jewish faith. This culminated in the massacre of many and even the slaughter of (non-kosher animals) such as pigs at the temple altars.
During this oppression the Jewish people fought back. After the struggle was won the people realised there was only enough oil left in the menorah to light for one day. However, somehow the menorah burned for eight days and was seen as a miracle. This is what is celebrated during Hanukkah.
Surprisingly enough, this time of year is not seen by the Jewish people as religious, it in not mentioned in scripture. It is actually one of the more famous times in this faith, but carries less significance than Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah.
The Menorah is 9 candles in a candelabrum, that are lit over an eight day period.
- The central candle is called Shammus and is a different height to the others.
- On the first night the Shammus is lit and three blessings are said.
- The Shammus is then used to light the candle on the far right
- On subsequent nights an an additional candle is lit after the first two blessings.
- They can be lit after dark but before midnight and blown out after a minimum of half an hour
Because of the significance of the oil at Hanukkah one of the most traditional things to be eaten is fried foods, such as Latkes.
During the turbulent times outlined above it was common for people who were secretly studying the Torah to cover their religious views by gambling with a Dreidel.
A Dreidel is marked four letters – Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin, which stands for ‘Nes gadol hayah sham,’ which means ‘A great miracle happened here. The words symbols also stand for the Yiddish – nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which also happen to be the rules of the game itself –
- Start with everyone putting one in of what is being gambled (often matchsticks)
- One person spins, if it lands on…
- nun – nothing happens
- gimel – win the whole pot
- hei – win 1/2 the pot
- shin – put one in
- Play continues and if the pot is emptied, everyone puts one more in, until one person has won everything at which point it is all divided up equally.