Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah

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.

Sharing the Night in Light

Usually falling in December, Hanukkah lands on a different date each year as it follows the lunar calendar. Jewish communities around the world celebrate the commencement of Hanukkah with the first lighting of the menorah.

Often described as a “minor” festival, this Jewish holiday has made a large impact around the world as it transcends through cultures. In the United States, observers typically give gifts – one each night for many children – and eat latkes. Public candle lighting ceremonies are held in many cities throughout the world, including in major cities in Austria, Germany and Hungary, some of which guests on our Danube and Rhine River itineraries may be able to attend as part of their own personal exploration during Hanukkah.

You can discover more Jewish history, holidays and culture within the Jewish quarters of European cities such as Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary; and Amsterdam, Netherlands as part of your leisure time on many of our river cruise itineraries. We hope you can join us on your next river cruise during Hanukkah as we celebrate with electric menorahs and prepare reibekuchen, or German potato pancakes – fit for the winter holidays. We wish you a Hanukkah Sameach!

Plan your river journey with us during Hanukkah in 2021:

2021 Sailings Hanukkah (November 28-December 6, 2021)

Experience More Connections
Party like an all star when visiting Austria.
Read more
Nestled along the majestic banks of the mighty Danube, Dürnstein is one of the most visited regions in the iconic Wachau Valley.
Read more
Return to a land of kings and queens, knights and ladies, and fables and legends in the ancient medieval city of Veliko Tarnovo and its Tsarevets Castle.
Read more