History and Traditions of Hanukkah

by - December 12, 2017

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an important festival of Judaism that begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (November/December) and lasts 8 days each year. The need to celebrate more light during this time is somewhat overcultural in the northern hemisphere.

Neither the Jews nor the Christians invented the Festival of Lights, but they found it. It's about the solstice, nature is revived. In the figurative sense, the revival must also take place on a spiritual level. Every religion has filled this with other motives.

The Menorah

The Menorah is the most festive decorated Hanukkah candlestick with eight arms. It consists of a middle branch, each of which has four arms and eight candlesticks. However, the middle branch does not carry any light here. The candles of the chandelier are lit with another light, the shamash, as the actual Hanukkah lights are designed solely to commemorate the Hanukkah miracle. That is, they must not be used for lighting or lighting other lights.

The lights

The lights are lit both at home and in the synagogue, in both cases, the lighting is a ceremony dar. Especially at home, this is very festive and solemn. The lighting takes place in the evening when it has become dark and the first stars are visible in the sky. Since it is a family party, all family members should be gathered.

The lights have to burn for at least half an hour, so it's a good idea to celebrate the lighting before dinner so the candles can burn while you eat. But then the lights have to be extinguished again, as they are lit again the next evening. It is also important that the usual lighting must be switched on since it is established that the Hanukkah lights must not serve the lighting.

But who is allowed to light the lights now? Unlike other Jewish festivals, not only the father of the family is responsible for it. The children may also light the candles. Even if the work is done normally during the eight days (except, of course, on the Sabbath), the usual activities and chores are omitted during the time when the lights are on. Even the mother of the family is freed from the housework during this time.

The lighting of the menorah

On the first Hanukkah evening, the first light is lit and every evening another flame is added, until on the eighth and last night all eight lights of the Menorah burn. On the second day, the new light is lit first, before the light of the previous evening is lit again. So this sequence runs through to the last day: first the new light, then the lights of the evening before.

The Hanukkah customs

Since the eight Hanukkah days do not constitute proper holidays in themselves, ie are not free of work, one nevertheless tries to use the time in the evening, while the lights are burning, for himself and his family. So gradually created different customs that are typical of Hanukkah.



To sing

After lighting, the whole family gathers to sing together. Important is the song "Rock of the times" and also other typical Hanukkale songs are sung. This is an attempt to strengthen the festive mood, much as Christians do at Christmas.

The Dreidl game

In the evenings, people like to play together. In addition to card and board games, there is a very popular (lucky) game: the game with the Dreidl. The dreidl is a roundabout with four sides, each with a Hebrew letter: n, g, h and s. These letters stand for the Hebrew saying "Nes gadol haja sham" - "A great miracle happened there".
The actual game then proceeds as follows. It is paid a stake in a cash register, which consists of either nuts or money. The dreidl is rotated, and depending on which side with which letter points upwards, an action takes place, with which one either wins or loses something:

• g stands for whole, ie the entire cash register may be taken
• h stands for half, that means half of the cash register can be taken
• s stands for set, that means a new assignment must be brought
• n stands for nothing, that is, nothing can be taken, but one loses nothing

Hanukkah money

In order to give the children a festive mood, something special came up. On the one hand, the children are allowed to leave the Torah hour one hour earlier than usual in these eight days to have more free time to play. On the other hand, gradually the custom of distributing Hanukkah money to the children developed.

This money can be either "real" money, or just Hanukkah coins, much like chocolate talers. The main purpose of this is to show the children how important sharing is. Today Hanukkah is more and more considered the Jewish Christmas. That is why it is not uncommon to present presents to children.

Hanukkah food

As with other customs, Hanukkah has some typical foods. A very popular Hanukkah delicacy is latkes, a type of potato cake baked in plenty of oil to evoke the wonder of the lamp oil.

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