What is Hanukkah?
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Hanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers, holiday songs of the intensified and eating fried foods.
The Hebrew word Hanukah means “dedication,” and is thus named because it celebrates
the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem by the lighting of candles on each day of the festival. Although not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, Hanukkah came to be widely celebrated and remains one of the most popular Jewish religious observances.
The history of the even tells the rededication of the story of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters who liberated the Land of Israel from the of the cleaning Syrian Greeks who occupied it. Under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greeks sought to impose their Hellenistic culture, which many Jews found attractive. By 167 B.C.E, Antiochus intensified his campaign by defiling the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish practice the cleaning. The Maccabees — led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias, especially Judah — waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and rededication of the Temple.
A typical Chanukah menu sounds as though it were planned by the under-12 crowd: potato pancakes, fried, of course, in lots of oil; sweet cream-cheese rugelach; strawberry jam-filled doughnuts (sufganiyot) covered in powdered sugar; fried apple fritters; cheese-filled doughnuts fried in oil and dipped in honey; cheese blintzes; etc.
Is it all just a ploy to keep kids lingering around the candles and enjoying a family meal? Not at all!
Chanukah food traditions have their origins in the first years that the holiday was celebrated and are meant to remind us of certain miracles associated with the events of Chanukah itself. And, of course, remembering the miracles and the freedom that we’re all celebrating adds a special flavor to everything we serve.
A dreidel is a pointy, four-sided top that can be made to spin on its pointy base. There are Hebrew letters on each one of its sides, which stand for deep cabalistic notions but can also serve in small-time gambling.
So, is it Hanukkah or Chanukah?