From December 18 through December 26, followers of the Jewish faith worldwide and here in the United States will be lighting their menorahs in observation of Hanukkah. Hanukkah or Chanukah is an eight-night/day religious festival commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Second Temple.
Though not considered as religiously significant as the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Sukkot, Hanukkah has taken on broad cultural significance for often occurring near the same time as Christmas. Many public and private businesses and venues inclusively decorate for the “holidays,” including symbols and imagery from Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the upcoming New Year. Plus, some school districts allocate days off for Hanukkah.
The Festival of Lights
Many Jews celebrate the holiday with eight days of gift-giving, enjoying traditional foods such as latkes, sufganiyot, and challah, and playing the game of dreidel. But the most important tradition of Hanukkah is the lighting of the hanukiah (ha-noo-kee-ah) or Hanukkah menorah. The Hanukkah menorah is a candelabra with eight branches plus a holder for the shamash or “helper candle” used to light the others. Each night after saying a prayer, a new candle is added to the menorah and lit until the menorah’s eight branches are all filled with lit candles on the final night of the holiday. Worshipers place their lit menorah in a home’s front window or porch to proclaim their faith publicly.
The lighting of the menorah has symbolic importance. According to Jewish legend, then-King Antiochus IV outlawed the Jewish religion and practices and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods in their temple. The Jews rose up against their Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt and took back Jerusalem and the temple. The Jewish soldiers rebuilt the temple’s altar and needed to relight the menorahs, but they only had enough oil for one night. Miraculously, the candles lasted for eight nights. The lighting of the Hanukkah menorah commemorates this miracle.
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