I was talking with my friends Sarah and Daniella asking if they were excited for Christmas next week. I found out they do not celebrate Christmas but they’re excited to celebrate Hanukkah. Sarah said Hanukkah is important because it celebrates the return of the Holy Temple to the Jewish people and the rededication of it.
I was still a little confused so she told me a story from over 2,000 years ago when a cruel and powerful king, who didn’t like Jewish people, ruled over the land of Israel. The king outlawed the Jewish religion and get this, he even ordered his soldiers to vandalize a central Jewish place of worship. The soldiers desecrated the beautiful temple by breaking furniture and bringing in lots of garbage and other filth. They even smashed jars of special oil that was used to light the menorah (“meh-NO-rah”) which was a temple lamp.
Sarah said a small army of rebels revolted against the ruthless king, but they were no match for the king’s legion of trained soldiers armed with weapons. Several years later, the rebels eventually forced the king and his army out of Israel and reclaimed their temple, but once inside, they found that it was TOTALLY trashed! They cleaned everything up and made a new menorah for the rededication. But soon they realized they couldn’t light it since all of the bottles of oil had been destroyed earlier. After searching and searching they found one tiny jar with just enough oil to light the menorah for one day only. They lit the menorah and to everyone’s surprise, the candles miraculously burned brightly for EIGHT full days, giving them enough time to prepare more oil. Soon after, an eight-day festival was announced to commemorate these miracles and Hanukkah (which means dedication) was born.
Today, Sarah said her family celebrates the Eight Days of Hanukkah and calls it the “Festival of Lights” or the “Festival of Dedication.” She said it’s one of the most anticipated and joyous of all Jewish festivals and that it happens each year anytime from late November to late December. This year’s celebrations start at sunset on December 22nd and ends on the night of December 30th. She said each night at sundown, her family and friends gather to light a special candelabrum called a menorah or hanukkiah (“ha-NEW-key-ah”). The hanukkiah has spots for nine candles – one for each night of Hanukkah and the extra candle, called the Shamash, is used to light all of the others candles. The Shamash generally sits in the middle higher from the other 8 candles.
Daniella told me how her family celebrates, too. She said the first night usually includes a HUGE family dinner with brisket and traditional dishes cooked using oil. One of Daniella’s favorite foods is the latke (“LOT-kuh”) which are potato pancakes, fried and then served with applesauce or sour cream. For dessert, she loves Sufganiyot (“SOOF-gone-ee-OAT”), which are deep-fried doughnuts filled with jam and topped with powdered sugar. YUM!!
After dinner, her family gathers to light the hanukkiah candles – a new one each night of the festival until all 8 are lit. Blessings and songs are also part of the ceremony. For her family tradition, after lighting the hanukkiah, she opens gifts from family and friends each night for eight nights and she play games with her cousins with toys like the traditional dreidel (“DRAY-dull”) and chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper made to look like real gold coins called Hanukkah Gelt.
I really learned a lot about Hanukkah from Sarah and Daniella, even these FUN facts:
- Other spellings for this holiday include Chanukah, Hanuka and Chanukkah.
- The hanukkiah candles are to burn for at least 30 minutes after the sun sets.
While we have different faiths and rituals, I found out that we all celebrate a holiday around the same time of year with friends and family, we eat yummy foods, we exchange gifts and we use lights in our holiday celebration!
I’m super excited to share a few of Sarah’s and Daniella’s favorite games to play during Hanukkah – – the Dreidel game and a cool Hanukkah Quiz! Check out the 2 games below and Happy Hanukkah!
If you don’t have a dreidel, don’t worry, Google will provide one, just type dreidel in the search engine. You can also have lots of fun by taking this Hanukkah quiz.
Do you have any friends or relatives that celebrate a different holiday or tradition than what you and your family practice? What have you learned and how do you honor and respect other holidays and traditions?
Chanukah Guide: Jewish Kids.Org
All About Hanukkah: CBC
The Story of Hanukkah: PJ Our Way