Hanukkah, Hannukkah, Chanukah, Channukah, Channukkah ,or however you spell it is a minor Jewish holiday celebrated in the Jewish month of Kislev.
Starting on the 25th of Kislev, Hanukkah is a joyous celebration that lasts eight days commemorating the miraculous military victory of the small Maccabean group against the Greek -Syrian empire. Though not a religious holiday, per se, the Hanukkah celebration shares the Jewish military supremacy against the Greeks with a great miracle that happened there in Jerusalem.
After the great revolt and getting the Temple back from the Greeks, the Jewish people started rebuilding the Temple. There is a commandment in the Torah, Exodus 27:20-21, that orders us to have an eternal light shining in the Tent of Meeting. After recovering the Temple, the Jews realized they only had enough oil to keep the lamp burning for only one day. Immediately, they started producing more olive oil to continue lighting the Eternal Light. They knew it would be nearly impossible since it took almost a week to press the olives and extract kosher oil for the temple lamp. They thought they were going to fail at the sacred commandment.
And that’s when the miracle happened. Even though the oil was enough for only one day, it kept burning for eight days! G-d made the miracle of making the oil burn for the amount of time that was needed to bring new oil to continue the lamp lit. He helped the Jews keep His own commandment,
Because of the military trouncing and the miracle of light, Jews have celebrated the Festival of Lights and Dedication for more than two thousand years. Nowadays we celebrate in different ways.
- We celebrate for eight days because of the miracle of the oil burning for eight days when it should have just burned for one day.
- We light a hanukiyah or Hanukkah menorah adding a candle each day. We go from one candle to eight candles, one per night. A hanukiyah is a lamp (Hebrew: Menorah, מְנוֹרָה ) with nine holes for small candles.
- Each evening, when you light up a candle you say a prayer.
- Because of the involvement of oil in this holiday, we cook greasy foods such as latkes with applesauce, and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).
- Play dreidel, an old game using a toy top with four sides. There are four Hebrew letters imprinted on a dreidel, these are the nun, gimmel, hey, shin, and they spell nes gadol haya sham meaning a great miracle happened there.
- It is traditional to give a small gift to children under the age of 13 during each day of Hanukkah. The gifts are usually chocolate gelt (money) to play with the dreidel, board games and other small gifts.
Here, at Temple Beth Israel, it is customary to have a hanukiah service on the last day of Hanukkah where everyone brings his or her own hanukiah and all together light the last candle. The view of many hanukiahs being lit at the same time is spectacular!