Heart of the Festival of Lights
The story of Hanukkah goes, during the second century B.C., Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers stepped forward and restored the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem. At the temple, they lit a golden menorah, a seven-branched candelabra, with oil that should have lasted only for a day. Instead, the oil miraculously lasted for eight.
To commemorate this remarkable miracle, each of the eight days of Hanukkah culminates with lighting a menorah as a dedication to this ancient incandescent tale. Observers light a Hanukkiah, which contains nine branches – different from the traditional menorah in the Hanukkah story, although many commonly refer to it as the same. The ninth branch on the Hanukkiah, the attendant candle known as the Shamash, is used to light the remaining eight candles. Candles are placed in the same way as the Hebrew language is written and read, right to left, while the kindling of the candles is performed from left to right. Traditional blessings in Hebrew are recited as the candles are lit.
Celebrating the Season with Delights
Traditional Hanukkah foods often revolve around oil as a reminder of its ancient marvel. It is customary for holiday dishes to be fried in oil, hence observers often cooking up crispy latkes (or potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jam-filled donuts sprinkled with a layer of powdered sugar). During Hanukkah, gelt, chocolate coins wrapped in silver or gold, are also commonly given out to children.
“Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.” This memorable singsong melody is inspired by a custom in the spirit of this holiday: the dreidel game. The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top, each side displaying the four Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin. Together, the letters form the symbolic phrase, “A great miracle happened there.” Children twirl their dreidels in excitement as they hope to win the game for all the gelt.