Hanukkah is one of the most celebrated Jewish festivals. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. It is observed starting on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar for eight days and eight nights. This usually falls from late November to late December under the Gregorian calendar. Before we start listing things let us look at the brief history of the festival. During the second century BC, Israel was under the rule of Antiochus, a Syrian Greek emperor. He issued decrees to force his ideology over the Jews. He banned the study of Torah and tarnished the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and laid them with Greek idols. Jews, who in spite of being outnumbered, pushed the Greeks out of their land. After claiming the holy temple, they wanted to light the temple’s menorah, but to their horror, the Greeks had contaminated all the oil. There was only one cruse of oil, which could last only a day, and new oil could only be procured in eight days. However, a miracle happened, and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days.
1. A Celebration of Victory Over Syrians
Apart from the re-dedication of Jerusalem’s Second Temple, Hanukkah also commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians.
Source: BBC, Image: Wikimedia
2. No Mention in the Jewish Bible
Where all of the Jewish festivals get a mention in the Jewish Tanakh (also called the Hebrew Bible), Hanukkah is the only one that gets no mention of it in Tanakh. It also does not get any mention in Talmud (the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law).
Source: CNN, Image: defense.gov
3. No Songs Please!
Unlike Christmas, there is no tradition of singing in Hanukkah; nor is there a tradition of children going from door-to-door. But in Yemen, the children are said to collect wicks for Hanukkah Menorah by going house-to-house with tins in hand.
Source: cbsnews.com, Image: defense.gov
4. Germans Have a Different Tradition
Although the tradition of singing and dancing is not very popular in Israel, in Germany, on the last night of Hanukkah, the people would light a giant bonfire with all the leftover wicks and oil and sing and dance around it until small hours of the night.
Source: timesofisrael.com, Image: Wikimedia
5. Christmas For Children
Although Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas,’ children often receive gifts (just like on Christmas); especially in the areas where Christian and Jewish children are in close contact.
Source: cbsnews.com, Image: Flickr
6. At the Center of the Festival is a Miracle
While re-dedicating the Second Temple, the Maccabees found that they only had oil to light the temple for one night; however, a miracle happened, and it ended up lasting for eight days.
7. Lit Candles For the Miracle
To commemorate the miracle, candles are lit on each night of Hanukkah.
Source: Wikipedia, GIF: giphy.com
8. One Candle for One Night
On the first evening of Hanukkah, a candle is lit in a special candelabra called ‘Menorah’ or ‘Hannuklyah.’ Subsequently, one candle is added every night until the total reaches eight.
Source: CNN, GIF: makeagif.com
9. The Master Candle
To lit the eight candles, a separate candle called ‘Shamash’ is used. Shamash is lit first and then it’s used to lit the other candles.
Source: CNN, Image: Flickr
10. Right to Left and Left to Right
The candles are placed in the Menorah from right to left, but they are lit from left to right.
Source: CNN, GIF: boingboing.net
11. The Hanukkah Game
A four-sided spinning top called Dreidel is played with during the festival of Hanukkah. Dreidel is also the symbol of Hanukkah.
Source: Wikipedia, GIF: giphy.com
12. Varies Every Year
The starting day of Hanukkah varies from year to year, but it usually falls between late November and late December.
Source: BBC, Image: Flickr
13. Celebrate the Festival with Dedication
Well! It’s the literal meaning of the festival; as in Hebrew, Hanukkah corresponds to ‘Dedication.’
Source: britannica.com, Image: obamawhitehouse.archives.gov
14. One Festival, Many Spellings
Although the preferred spelling is ‘Hannukah,’ it’s also spelled as ‘Chanukah’ or ‘Chanukkah.’
Source: britannica.com, Video: vimeo.com
15. Festival of Lights
For gleaming candles everywhere, the festival has earned the tag of the ‘Festival of Lights.’
Source: whychristmas.com, Image: Wikimedia
16. The Hanukkah Delicacies
For food lovers, Hanukkah is a great time to have delicious food such as latkes (which are a kind of potato fritter), pancakes, and doughnuts.
Source: delish.com, Image: Wikimedia
17. A Celebration of Murder!
You read it right; Hanukkah is a celebration of murder. According to the story, Judith, a beautiful widow, fed General Holofernes with salty cheese, which made him thirsty and resulted in him drinking a lot of wine. This made him drowsy, and she was able to decapitate him. This frightened Holoferne’s troops, and in the aftermath, they fled to Maccabees. This was one of the reasons that Hanukkah was earlier celebrated by eating cheese before potato gained popularity.
Source: caravaggio.org, Image: Wikimedia
18. Enjoy the Chocolate Coins
While “gelts,” a Yiddish term for coins, have been a significant part of Hanukkah observance for centuries, chocolate gelts are the new tradition. Reportedly, it was America’s Loft candy company that started making chocolate gelts in the 1920s.
Source: myjewishlearning.com, Image: Flickr
19. Marilyn Monroe and Her Music-Playing Hanukkah Menorah
When the famous Hollywood star converted to Judaism before marrying Jewish playwright, Arthur Miller, she received a menorah as a conversion gift from her future mother-in-law.