In December, Jewish people around the world gather to celebrate
Hanukkah with family and friends for 8 nights and 8 days.
This year, 2020, the gathering will look a little bit different, but the joyous celebrations will still happen. Hanukkah, which is the Hebrew word for dedication, starts on Thursday evening, December 10th.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates a few miracles that happened a long time ago (around 165 BCE).
King Antiochus was trying to eradicate anyone and anything that did not please him, including the Jewish religion. He had a huge army to support him. A small group of Jewish farmers, led by Judah Maccabee, stood up to and fought this army to defend their right to practice their religion.
Miraculously, they won!
This unlikely victory was seen as an act of G-d, and the Jewish farmers went to their synagogue to praise and thank G-d. However, when they opened the doors, they found their sanctuary in shambles.
One thing that was not destroyed, was the Eternal Flame. Every synagogue around the world has an eternal flame, representing that G-d is eternal. Today, most congregations use lightbulbs and change them frequently, so they won’t burn out. As you can imagine, this small group of farmers did not have electricity at that time. Their menorah (candelabra) used oil to burn the flame.
Unfortunately, with all of the destruction in their synagogue, there was only one vat left with enough oil for the candle to burn for one night. It took 7-8 days to process the oil to make more for candle burning.
This leads to another miracle of Hanukkah! The little bit of oil they found was only supposed to last for one night, yet it lasted 8 full days and nights. Long enough for more oil to be processed.
Today, Jewish families remember the miracles and say blessings to G-d as they light their Hanukkiah, the special menorah for Hanukkah. It has places for 8 candles, and a ‘helper’ candle. We start with the helper candle lighting one candle on the first night, two candles on the second night, and so on. We increase the light each night making a dark time of year brighter as the holiday goes on.
A question I often hear when I talk about Hanukkah is:
Isn’t Hanukkah just the Jewish Christmas, with different rituals, presents, and different food?
Well, no. Not at all, although we do have rituals, special food and yes, many families even give presents.
Lighting the Menorah is the main ritual. Hanukkah is actually a minor holiday in the Jewish religion. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover are major holidays. While Hanukkah lasts for 8 days and nights, the entire ritual of lighting the candles and saying the blessings takes only a few minutes each night of the holiday. Many families will spend time together singing songs and playing dreidel (a spinning-top game of chance), or reading stories and visiting with each other while the candles burn down, but the actual ritual is quite short.
The idea of presents at Hanukkah is relatively new, over the past 30-40 years or so, and is much more popular in America than many other countries. Some think this originated because parents felt bad for their children when friends were receiving presents at Christmas time. Others think it has to do with commercialism and companies being so smart with their marketing…
You might notice gold-wrapped chocolate coins (Hanukkah Gelt) popping up in stores around Hanukkah time. People used to give coins to help tip the teachers, who similar today, did not get paid enough for the valuable work they do, but that was really the extent of the presents related to Hanukkah.
It is traditional to eat foods made in oil during Hanukkah to remember the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days. It is not a healthy tradition, but it certainly is a tasty one! Latkes, also known as potato pancakes or hash browns, are extremely popular and there is much debate over which toppings they should have. Applesauce and/or sour cream are popular but in my house ketchup rules. No judgment, please! Sufganiyot, jelly-filled donuts are also a big hit since donuts are made in oil.
Hanukkah is a joyous holiday that celebrates miracles, facing adversity and defeating oppression. It is a wonderful holiday about finding and sharing light in the darkness, which I’m sure we could all use as 2020 comes to a close.
While all of our holidays might look a little different this year, may you celebrate yours in good health with light and joy.
There are community menorah lightings and other events happening every night of Hanukkah- in person and virtually - for more information contact your favorite Jewish congregation.
Ft Collins and surrounding areas:
Temple Or Hadash templeorhadash.org
Congregation Har Shalom www.congregationharshalom.org
CSU Hillel hillelcolorado.org/
Greeley: Beth Israel
Macaroni Kid has a Lighting Guide of community lights and residential lights which also includes Menorah lighting both in-person and virtual. If you want to add your lights to the list just let Macaroni know.