Blake is one of my new colleagues this semester. He is now teaching history at my university. He and his wife Renae are about the same age as me, and we have become close friends in these last few months. Renae asked me if I wanted to join them for their Hanukkah celebration. I was confused at first because they, like me, are Christian. She told me that this will be their 3rd year celebrating this Jewish holiday, and they began their observation of Hanukkah due to curiosity and interest in this Jewish custom. And you know me; I’m all about learning different customs and cultural traditions!
Eight of us gathered to eat a Jewish meal, say a few Jewish blessings, and light the menorah. Renae started by reading us a children’s book about this celebration, so that we could have a better understanding of it.
The story of Hanukkah is about the struggle of the Jews against a Syrain king to continue to worship their God instead of the Greek gods. Judah Maccabee got a group together to fight, who were called the Maccabees. The Maccabees prevailed and restored the Jewish temple. When the temple was reclaimed, there was only enough oil to light the religious lamp for one night. However, the lamp stayed lit for eight days. This is why Jews celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah and why eight candles are lit on the menorah. Menorah simply means lamp in Hebrew. The ninth candle is used to light the others. Hanukkah is also referred to as The Festival of Lights and can also be spelled Chanukah.
If you are familiar with the Bible (Old and New Testaments) or the Torah (the Old Testament), you may be wondering where this can be found in those books. Well, it can’t. It is found in the books of First and Second Maccabees, which are Jewish apocryphal books. Jewish apocryphal books are Jewish traditional texts written in the time period between the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. Many of the Jewish festivals are based on happenings from these texts. Jesus himself, as a Jew, celebrated Hanukkah. That is something I have always wondered about…what the tradition was based on and where the story could be found. Ah ha!
During these eight days, Jews eat special foods made with oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts. We had chicken (no pork is a must!), salad, brussel sprouts, latkes, and several traditional desserts. Yum!
Special games are also played during this week,so we couldn’t pass up a chance to play one of them- the dreidel game! It’s basically a 4-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters stand for the acronym “A Great Miracle Happened Here”. Each person takes turn spinning the top and each letter landed on has a corresponding action, like take half the pot, put one of your items in the pot, etc. You can use coins, chocolate, nuts, etc. as the “pot”. My dreidel was not so lucky, and I lost all my Hershey Kisses quite quickly.
I really had a nice time learning about Hanukkah, and I hope you did too through this post! Please share this with others who might want to learn a little bit more about this Jewish tradition.
I’ll leave you with a Hanukkah song that I remember singing in my middle school holiday pageant called “Oh Hanukkah”. The scary thing is, I don’t think I’ve heard this since the 5th grade, and I still remember every word!