A Beginner's Guide to Hanukkah

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    As winter's darkness sets in, Jews around the world celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah, also spelled Chanukah or Hanukah, begins on the eve of the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one used for Jewish observances everywhere. The date on the corresponding Roman calendar changes each year. Although Hanukkah and Christmas often fall within days of one other, the two celebrations have only a few elements in common. Hanukkah commemorates the liberation of the Jews in ancient times and the continuing quest for freedom of religion. Lighting a nine-pronged menorah, singing songs, including the traditional "Maoz Tzur," or "Rock of Ages," playing games, telling stories, eating, and exchanging modest gifts are all ways Jewish families enjoy the holiday. Dates This year, 2004, Hanukkah runs from the evening of December 7 through 15. Jewish holidays start the evening that precedes the first day of a holiday, so the first day of Hanukkah is December 8. Origins The light that is integral to this celebration begins with the story of the victory of Jews over their Syrian oppressors and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem n the word Hanukkah means "dedication" in Hebrew n in 165 B.C. While cleaning the Temple the Jews found only enough purified oil to kindle the Temple light for one day, but by a miracle the oil lasted eight days until more could be procured. Jews rejoiced by lighting bright lights in front of their homes and marked their liberation with a holiday. Big moment Lighting the menorah and adding one light for each night of the holiday is a beautiful experience, especially for younger members of the family. In some homes, the first night is most exciting, when everyone anticipates eating the special foods for the first time of the year and opening a gift. In other homes lighting a full menorah on the last night is most memorable. Traditional greetings Happy Hanukkah is always appropriate. special touches A Hanukkah menorah is different from other candelabras. It has spaces for nine candles; eight in a row for the days of the holiday and one set apart, which is used each night to light the others. Some families make their own menorahs from clay or wood; others buy them. A menorah can be simple or ornate. No Hanukkah party is complete without playing a fun game of chance by spinning a four-sided top called a dreidel. Each side has a Hebrew letter with a corresponding value. Land on the winning side and take the pot. Menu It's customary to eat foods cooked in oil for Hanukkah as a remembrance of the miracle of the Temple oil. However, the menu varies from country to country. Jews who come from Eastern Europe serve potato pancakes, called latkes. Israelis eat jelly-filled fried doughnuts called soofganiyot, and