What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah PartyHanukkah Here is a little account of the Birth of this Holiday and its celebration. It also tells about the “Magic” of Hanukkah. Read below and enjoy.

The holiday originated when Judah the Maccabee and his followers reclaimed the temple in the village of Modi’in from Syrian King Antiochus IV. The temple was cleansed and prepared for rededication. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication.” When the sacred temple Menorah (candelabra) was relit, there was only enough sacred oil to burn for one day. Yet, according to tradition, the oil miraculously lasted eight days until more purified oil could be found.

A lesser known story from the Apocrypha tells of the beautiful widow Judith who plied enemy Assyrian General Holofernes with cheese and wine until he fell into a drunken stupor. Judith beheaded the general in his sleep, and his soldiers fled in fear, thus saving her people from the Assyrians. This story is the subject of much renowned artwork.

HannukahIn remembrance, a candle is lit each of the eight days of Hanukkah. Children receive gifts of gelt (in remembrance of the coins minted by the new independent Maccabee state) or money and play games of dreidel (a spinning four-sided top.) The tradition of receiving a gift on each of the eight days of Hanukkah is fairly recent. Since Christians exchange gifts at Christmas, Jews have come to exchange gifts other than coins at Hanukkah, which comes at the same time of the year.

You will also see this holiday spelled Chanukkah and perhaps even Hannukah due to different translations and customs.

Hanukkah CelebrationSymbolic Foods
The traditional foods consumed during the Hanukkah holiday are symbolic of the events being celebrated. Most are fried in oil, symbolic of the oil that lasted eight days. Others contain cheese to celebrate Judith’s victory. Loukoumades are deep-fried puffs dipped in honey or sugar to represent the cakes the Maccabees ate, along with Soofganiyot (also Sufganiyot) and zelebi. Pancakes are a traditional dish, serving as a reminder of the food hurriedly prepared for the Maccabees as they went into battle, along with the oil they are fried in as a reminder of the miraculous oil.

Latkes were originally symbolic of the cheesecakes served by the widow Judith, and later evolved to the potato/vegetable fried latkes most known today. Many cheese and dairy dishes are consumed in memory of brave Judith.

A newer tradition in the United States is the baking of butter cookies or pretzels in the shape of Hanukkah symbols while relating the stories. Children delight in helping and learn as they create, too.

Hanukkah Party Planning

Step One
Decorate your house in blue, white and silver, the traditional colors of Israel. You’ll also want to display time-honored Hanukkah items, such as chocolate gelt (Yiddish for money) and dreidels (tops for an ancient gambling game).

Step Two
Set up the menorah. This special candelabra has nine branches, one for each night plus one at a different height to hold the shamas candle. The shamas, which means “servant,” is lit with a match and used to light all the other candles on the menorah.

Step Three
Say the blessings. There are three significant blessings to speak during the eight days. Print them and keep them in a special book to open during the lighting of the candles. Print out the words to the traditional Hanukkah song “Maoz Tzur” (translation: “Rock of Ages”).

Step Four
Prepare the menu. The centerpiece is always the potato latkes fried in oil (representing the oil found in the temple); serve with applesauce and sour cream. In Israel, Jews feast on sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).

Step Five
Give inexpensive but thoughtful gifts, one for each of the eight days. Some families who will spend only one of the eight days together choose to buy one present to exchange that night. A gift exchange is also popular (see 356 Plan the Perfect Holiday Gift Exchange).

Step Six
Play the dreidel game. The dreidel, a four-sided top, is the centerpiece of an easy game that uses coins or nuts for betting. The Hebrew letters carved or painted on each side correspond to what the player must do: nun (do nothing), he (take half of the kitty), gimel (take the kitty), and shin (lose what you bet). Ante up!

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