Cultural Christmas: Hanukkah

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Welcome to my 2013 Christmas thing, and I decided that instead of talk about my christmas for 25 days, I will talk about how other people celebrate it instead. And I shall start with a Jewish holiday called Hanukkah.

Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It dates back to two centuries before the beginning of Christianity. In the western calendar Hanukkah is celebrated in November or December. The word Hanukkah means rededication and celebrates one of the greatest miracles in Jewish history.

The festival reminds Jews of a time over 2500 years ago when Antiochus, a Syrian king, tried to make the Jewish people worship Greek gods. A statue of Antiochus was erected in the Jewish temple and the Jews were ordered to bow down before him. The Ten Commandments forbid Jews to worship statues or idols and so they refused.

A small group of Jews called Maccabees rebelled, and after a three year war they recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians. But the temple was all but destroyed.

The Jews had to clean and repair the Temple, and when they were finished they rededicated it to God. They did this by lighting the lamp (Menorah) – which was a symbol of God’s presence. Only one small jar of oil was found, enough for one day, but miraculously the lamp stayed alight for eight days.

Today, Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting one candle on the Hanukiah (an eight-stemmed candelabrum) each day. The Hanukiah symbolises how God looked after the Jewish people at this difficult time. Games are often played at Hanukkah. The most common game uses a dreidel and is a popular way of helping children to remember the great miracle.

Fried foods are traditional during Hanukkah, in remembrance of the sacred oil. Popular fried foods are Latkes (potato pancakes) and Sufganiyot (sweet jelly- filled doughnuts). As in many other celebrations of many other cultures, Hanukkah is about family. It’s a joyous time of year when those you love gather together to share food, blessings, and music, as the traditions are passed on through the ages.

As part of the celebration, children received gelt (Yiddish term for “money”) during each of the eight days in order for them to learn about charity. More recently, the tradition of children receiving a small gift each of the eight nights has become more popular. This gift giving is frequently associated with the Christian Christmas tradition of gift giving.

And that’s my take on Hanukkah. Do you celebrate it, if so, let me know in the comments. Anyway, next post shall be about Eid, a Muslim festival! Thank you everyone!

About the author

Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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