Hanukkah is an 8-day celebration commemorating the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C.E. during the Maccabean revolt against Greek rulers. It starts on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls anytime between late November and late December on the Gregorian calendar.
This year, Hanukkah is being celebrated starting at sundown, November 27 to sundown, December 4.
Each night for eight nights, a light on the Menorah or Hanukiah is lit. The number of lights lit is increased by one each night, ending on the final night. An extra light, called a shamash, (Hebrew for guard or servant), is also lit each night and is given special prominence, either above or below or away from the Menorah. This is done in adherence of the Talmud, which specifies that the Hanukkah lights must only be used for meditating on the Hanukkah miracle. Therefore the additional light can be used for other kindling purposes.
The legend centers around 167 BCE. Antiochus, the Greek ruler of Judea, forbad Jewish religious practices, thus provoking a revolt by the Maccabean Jews. The Maccabees prevailed and restored the temple in Jerusalem. The Menorah needed to be rekindled, because it was supposed to burn continuously, but there was only enough ritual olive oil remaining to burn for one day. Instead, it burned for eight days, in which time they were able to prepare a new batch of oil. Thus, the eight-day celebration commemorates this miracle.
My friend, Ana, tells me that as a child, getting presents during Hanukkah was a thrill, as were the latkes (fried potato pancakes). She still observes this tradition and lights a Menorah at her own home. She intends to pass on the tradition to her children, who are now toddlers.
More information on Hanukkah can be read at http://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/597456/jewish/Chanukah-Basics.htm
Categories: Winter Celebrations