Hanukkah or Chanukkah in more traditional Hebrew texts, is the Jewish wintertime festival of lights. It lasts for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev, the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar. Hanukkah means ‘dedication’ and so celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple.
Eight days of celebration
There are several theories dating back to the first century, on the original reason for Hanukkah and why it lasts eight days. There are references to festive days celebrated on the 25th of Kislev, but don’t specifically mention Hanukkah by name. It’s not until the second century when Hanukkah is mentioned but doesn’t describe any laws or customs. It’s generally thought, writers at the time were reluctant to be seen celebrating a successful revolt against a foreign ruler.
It’s not until about 600 years later when the perhaps more familiar ‘miracle of oil lasting for 8 days’ is first described. Having driven out the forces of the Macedonians, the Maccabees only had enough oil to light the Temple’s Menorah for one day, yet it burned for eight days, allowing enough time to produce more oil.
At the heart of the festival is the nightly lighting of the Menorah. An often beautifully elaborate lamp stand, traditionally fuelled by olive oil, symbolising the ideal of universal enlightenment. Its original seven light design can be traced back millennia and modern versions, replacing oil with candles can be found in homes around the world.
During Hanukkah, families will use a nine branch Menorah and light one candle each night of Hanukkah, using the ninth candle as an igniter, so after eight nights all candles are lit. Blessings are recited, and songs sung before and after the lighting, which are quite often displayed in windows.
A time to celebrate
Many families celebrate Hanukkah together by exchanging gifts like books, games and fun arts and crafts and eating together. Quite often, oil rich foods’ like potato cakes or jam doughnuts are consumed to commemorate the importance of oil during this time.
We wish everyone a happy Hanukkah or Hanukkah Sameach this December.