Tami Michaels: Inside Out


I think there is a lot of confusion about Hanukkah and I thought it would be helpful and interesting to do a quick story on it. This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on Dec 1.

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Hanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is actually a celebration of liberation of the Jews from oppression from the Syrian/Greeks some 2000 years ago. The Temple of the Jews was defiled according to Jewish law. The Jews needed enough oil to burn for the menorah in the temple for eight days. There was only enough oil for one day and the oil miraculously lasted for eight days.

The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah (or sometimes called a Chanukah) that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammus (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first). On the eighth night, all nine candles (the 8 Hanukkah candles and the shammus) are lit.

It is traditional to eat fried foods on Hanukkah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Among Jews, this usually includes latkes (pronounced "lot-kuhs" or "lot-keys")
Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christmas.

Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top and chocolate coins.
A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham", a great miracle happened there, referring to the miracle of the oil.

An excellent source of information and delicious Hanukkah recipes can be found here, http://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/default_cdo/jewish/Hanukkah.htm.

I have fond memories of Hanukkah as a child, and I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday this season.

Tami Michaels