The History of Hanukkah

The History of Hanukkah

The Jewish version of Christmas, this is often called, though that is not an accurate description. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a holiday celebrated by Jewish custom in November-December.

The holiday is listed to commemorate the rededication of the Jewish Temple in the 2nd century BCE, after the Maccabees revolution against occupying forces. The story goes that after removing the impure elements, there was only enough oil to light a symbolic candelabrum for one night, although it would need continuous burning by tradition. The miracle is that the menorah, as it is called, continued to light on that small amount of oil for the full 8 days it took to create more. Thus, we are given the 8 day celebration of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah, as a religious celebration, has very specific associations. The first is, of course, the Menorah. A specially designed 9 branch candelabra, it holds the 8 symbolic candles for the 8 days of the feast, and the 9th attendant candle. For each night of the holiday, another candle is lit, until on the last night the full lamp is illuminated.

In terms of traditional gifts and symbols, there are a few others. The one most familiar to people who don’t know the holiday is the dreidel. A four sided wooden spinning top, the dreidel is a traditional game. The sides of the top are marked with Hebrew letters, each of which has a meaning for a light heated gambling game. In the game, the result of the top spin determines if you take or place whatever game pieces are being used for money in a center pot. The game, and the toy itself, are often mentioned automatically when talking of Hanukkah, and there is even a traditional song about it.

Another noted part of Hanukkah is gelt, a traditional gift of chocolate coins given to children. As one of the common game pieces used in the dreidel game, it is another integral part of the holiday.

Hanukkah is, as noted, often called a Jewish Christmas, though it is probably more accurate to call it a more sedately toned holiday. It is worth giving a notice to, though, as an important part of the Jewish culture, and a piece of history as well.

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