By Jason Carpenter
When Christmas time comes around, people are bombarded with nonstop Christmas music, movies, ads, and commercials, but rarely anything about Hanukkah. Tonight, December 19th, marks the 8th and final night of Chanukah, a Jewish holiday known as the “Festival of Lights” that is observed for eight consecutive days and nights. The word Hanukkah means “dedication,” with this holiday commemorating the rededication of the holy Temple in the second century B.C.E.
Sophomore Miles Elkins gave his insight on celebrating the annual holiday.
”Hanukkah is a joyous time for Jews across America,” said Elkins. “For eight straight nights, you open presents, spend time with family, and engage in some Jewish traditions, like lighting the menorah.”
Each night during, a candle is lit and placed in a menorah. By the end nine candles will illuminate the room, one for each of the eight nights with the ninth serving as a helper candle (shamash) that lights the other candles.. One candle is lit the first night, then two on the second night and so forth for eight consecutive nights.
“There's so many different kinds of menorahs and we have so many, it's really fun to look at all of them lit up,” said senior Simone Peretz.
The story behind Hanukkah: In about 168 BC, the Syrian-Greeks made it illegal to practice Judaism, taking control of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and attempting to force the Jews to worship the Greek gods and abandon their traditions. Led by Judah Maccabee, the Jews eventually defeated the stronger Syrian army and reclaimed the Temple, which had been desecrated by the invaders. Wanting to purify and rededicate their Temple with special oil, the Jews found there was only enough of the ritual oil to burn for one day in the menorah. Yet, the oil miraculously lasted eight consecutive days and nights. Hanukkah, which can also be spelled Chanukah, commemorates this miracle of lights.
“Hanukkah is the time to of year to let in the light when it is often very dark. It is a time to celebrate, and be with family,” said Janelle Mitnick-Cooper, a dance teacher at Novato High.
Food: During Chanukah, Jews eat a variety of delicious foods to celebrate. One popular food is known as latkes, which are tasty, fried potato pancakes. Latkes are eaten because they are fried in oil, a reference to the miracle our ancestors witnessed long ago. Another common Hanukkah food is sufganiyot, a jelly-filled fried donut. Occasionally, Jewish families will also give the gift of gelt, which are milk-chocolate coins in golden wrappers.
Peretz described her experience with Hanukkah.
“In my family, my dad makes us sing all the songs and as much as we hate it, we laugh about it and it's fun,” said Peretz. “Also, every year we attempt to make doughnuts that look presentable and taste good, but we have yet to find a good recipe.”
“The family traditions I have for Hanukkah are to sit around the coffee table and play dreidel, to prepare latkes, to light the menorah each night, and to give a present every night,” added Mitnick-Cooper.
Customs and Traditions: Hanukkah is filled with all kinds of customs and traditions. One part of the holiday is the familial exchange of presents. Because Hanukkah lasts eight days, everyone typically receives one gift per night, usually from their parents. According to Vox.com, Chanukah traditionally does not include presents but it has developed over time because the kids wanted gifts. “The idea of “Hanukkah presents” is another attempt to shoehorn Hanukkah into the Christmas script. When Hanukah became an American holiday, parents began to give their children Hanukkah gifts,” said Vox.com.
The most common Chanukah game is dreidel. Dreidels are four-sided spinning tops, typically made of wood or plastic, and come in different sizes. Hay, Shin, Gimel, and Nun are the four symbols that decorate the dreidel, one on each side.
The way the game works is, each participant tosses one game piece in the “pot” to start the game. You can play with basically anything, but typically you gamble with money, nuts, or candy. Participants sit in a circle and take turns spinning the dreidel. If the dreidel shows Hay, you win half the pot. If it shows Shin, you have to put one game piece in the pot. If you spin a Gimel, you are jovial because you win the entire pot. When landing on Nun, nothing happens (Nun means nothing in Hebrew). Eventually, the person who collects all the game pieces wins the wild game.
“My favorite part of Hanukkah is playing dreidel, I love playing dreidel,” said Mitnick Cooper. “My family used to get a whole bag of M&Ms and then we’d put them in cups, divide them out, and then we’d just gamble M&Ms. We have also played dreidel with pennies and gelt.”
There’s not much Hanukkah recognition in pop culture, but famous and traditional Hanukkah songs include I Have a Little Dreidel and Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah. Comedic actor Adam Sandler, who has Jewish roots, created his own song called “The Chanukah Song,” made famous on Saturday Night Live, in addition to his animated movie Eight Crazy Nights.
Best Part About Hanukkah?: ”To me, Chanukkah is great as it gives Jews an equivalent to Christmas. Hanukkah traditionally isn’t a very religious holiday, but allows us time to have some quality family time and engage in some simple Hanukkah traditions,” Elkins said.
“My favorite parts of Hanukkah are the menorahs and the Hanukkah parties,” said Peretz. “The Hanukkah party is the best day because every one of our friends and family are in one spot and there's tons of food.”
This year, Hanukkah goes from December 12 to 20. Tonight, all branches of the menorah will be filled, lighting up Jewish homes around the world.