Hanukkah, the Jewish word for �dedication�, is the �festival of lights�. Also named Chanukah, the holyday commemorates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following military victory of the Jewish Macabees over the Greek-Syrians by lighting candles.
Hanukkah is celebrated for eight consecutive days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which coincides with November-December on the Gregorian calendar).
History of The Festival of Lights
The holy Temple of the Jewish faith was seized by the Greek-Syrians in 168 B.C. The temple was desecrated, extinguishing the holy light of the menorah that burned on the altar. Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria, banned all Jewish rituals, even ordering the Jews to worship Greek gods.
Not all Jews could take this oppression lying low and put up resistance. Exactly three years later, during the winter solstice in 165 B.C., the Macabees defeated the powerful Greek-Syrian army (using guerilla warfare) and re-established their control. They restored the temple and arranged for a big celebration. The Macabees decided to light their sacred menorah for the celebration but could find oil to keep it alight for only a day. In a miraculous turn of events, however, the menorah continued to burn for eight days; this gave the Jews enough time to arrange fresh oil.
Today, this tradition is continued and Hanukkah is observed for eight continuous days in the winter solstice.
The Hanukkah Ceremonies
The chief ceremony revolves round the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah. The menorah has nine branches � eight holders meant for the candles representing the eight days of Hanukkah and an extra holder for the candle used to light the candles. One candle is lit each night and by the last night of Hanukkah, all the eight candles are lit. Family members chanting special prayers gather round the menorah when it is being lit. As per commandments, the Menorah is placed beside a window/door to �publicize the miracle�.
Celebration During The Holyday
The festival of lights is a festival full of fun and merry making. Traditional Hanukkah foods cooked in oil like Latkes (or potato pancakes) and Sufganiya (a kind of jelly donut) in remembrance of oil burning in the temple are among Hanukkah favorites. Sweet dishes are also popular. Family members and guests are offered delicacies after the candle lighting ceremony.
Traditional Hanukkah games like Dreidel (Sivovon in Hebrew) are also played in many households. The gift-exchanges that take place in many Jewish families today carry forward the age-old custom of giving Hanukkah gelt (money) to children.