‘Tis the season again to be jolly. Christmas trees are going up in households, and colorful blinking lights are brightening up the night skies.
But that’s if you live in a Catholic household, though. But what about our Jewish brothers and sisters?
Of course, they also celebrate during the winter, but it isn’t Christmas.
The Jewish community has its festivity called Hanukkah, which they celebrate for eight days and nights.
Let’s find out how and why the Jewish faith celebrates this holiday by taking a closer look at its history.
What is Hanukkah?
Firstly, Hanukkah is not the Jewish version of Christmas. At least not in the religious sense.
Hanukkah or Chanukah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, is a celebration of remembrance of the victory of Jewish rebels against their Greek-Syrian oppressors and the rededication of their Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
This rededication occurred on the 25th day of the month of Kislev and every year since then.
Some may be confused why it falls on different dates every year, but it doesn’t, according to the Hebrew calendar, which follows the lunar cycle.
Because the lunar and solar cycles do not align precisely, Hanukkah falls anytime from late November to late December.
As the story goes, their temple required a holy light to shine inside of it at all times, but the Jewish people only had oil that would last for one night.
Miraculously, the light kept shining for eight days, which is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and is the reason it’s also called the Festival of Lights.
The story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Torah, the Holy Book of the Jewish faith, because it is said to have happened after it was written.
Instead, it can be found mentioned in the Bible’s New Testament when Jesus attended a celebration called the “Feast of Dedication.”
What are the different traditions of Hanukkah?
During each night of Hanukkah, a Menorah will be lit to commemorate the holiday.
This candelabra holds nine candles, one at its center that should be used to light the four others on each side. This candle is called the shamash.
One candle is lit each night until all eight are lit together on the festival’s final night.
It has always been the tradition to give money to one another during Hanukkah.
And, because of how the popularity of Christmas grew, the Jewish community has also adopted its tradition of gift-giving.
The Jewish people would also play the dreidel during this holiday.
This is their version of the teetotum, a gambling toy found in many European cultures.
During dinners, most of the traditional food served is fried and is meant to symbolize the miracle oil that kept the lights burning for eight days.
Over 175 million jelly donuts, or sufganiyot in Hebrew, are consumed in Israel during the holiday.
What types of food are served during Hanukkah?
Much like any significant holiday celebration where a large amount of food is served during gatherings, Hanukkah is no different.
Besides everyone’s favorite sufganiyot or the jelly donut, other traditional Hanukkah dinner staples consist of latkes, which are potato pancakes or fritters; the applesauce that goes with latkes; and challah, a braided bread eaten during ceremonial occasions.
Main courses can include braised beef brisket, salmon with lemon and dill, crispy rosemary chicken and fries, and roasted green beans.
It is also customary for the traditional delicacies being served to be cooked not only symbolically with oil but also kosher.
Kosher is a term used to describe food that complies with the strict dietary rules of traditional Jewish law, derived from Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14:1-12.
How has Hanukkah been portrayed in popular culture?
There’s been plenty of Hanukkah representation in pop culture throughout the years.
One of the instances that got mainstream recognition was the song Chanukah Song by the renowned comedian Adam Sandler.
The song’s goofiness is beside the point. It has paved the way for many more Hollywood writers and actors to embrace their Jewish identity more openly.
The 2000s kicked it into high gear by giving Hanukkah more visibility.
There’s the critically panned but now-considered cult classic movie, Eight Crazy Nights, which coincidentally also starred Adam Sandler.
Then there’s the teen TV drama, The OC, watched by millions weekly, where broody, hipster teens celebrate an all-inclusive holiday dubbed Chrismukkah.
Meanwhile, people gathered to see rockers like Perry Farrell of the band Jane’s Addiction host the now annual New York City celebration A Jewcy Hanukkah.
There’s also Hanukkah-themed pop punk band The LeeVees, who released their CD Hanukkah Rocks! in 2005 to some acclaim.
So, whether through music, film, or television, the spirit of Hanukkah is undoubtedly alive and well. Hanukkah indeed rocks!
Hanukkah has a long history in the Jewish community that celebrates miracles and their triumphs.
It is an important holiday, and its observance is something festive with plenty of singing, eating, and family time.
So the next time you meet a Jewish friend this season, be sure to greet them with a Chag sameach or a Happy Hanukkah!
Hopefully, you get invited to at least one of the eight days of celebration!