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GrannyDancer's Holiday Home

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Hanukkah - Festival of Lights

The holiday originated when Judah the Maccabee and his followers
reclaimed the temple in the village of Modi'in from Syrian King
Antiochus IV. The temple was cleansed and prepared for rededication.

The Hebrew word Hanukkah means "dedication." When the sacred
temple Menorah was relit, there was only enough  oil to burn for one day.
But, tradition has it that the oil miraculously lasted eight days until
more purified oil could be found.

A lesser known story from the Apocrypha tells of the beautiful widow
Judith who plied enemy Assyrian General Holofernes with wine and
cheese until he fell into a drunken stupor. Judith beheaded the general
while he slept, and his soldiers fled in fear, thus saving her people from
the Assyrians. This story is the subject of much renowned artwork.

In remembrance, a candle is lit each of the eight days of Hanukkah.
Children receive gelt (in remembrance of coins minted by the new
Maccabee state) or money and play games of dreidel (a spinning
four-sided top.)

The tradition of receiving a gift on each of the eight days of Hanukkah
is fairly recent. Since Christians exchange gifts at Christmas, Jews have
come to exchange gifts other than coins at Hanukkah, which comes a
the same time of the year as Christmas.

You will also see this holiday spelled Chanukkah and perhaps even
Hannukah due to different translations and customs.

Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel,
a gambling game played with a square top. Most
people play for matchsticks, pennies, M&Ms or
chocolate coins. A dreidel is marked with four
Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Shin.
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This supposedly stands for the Hebrew phrase "nes gadol hayah sham",
a great miracle happened there. Actually, it stands for the Yiddish words
nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which are the rules
of the game! There are variations in the way the game is played, but the
way it was taught to me,  everyone puts in a coin. Someone spins the
dreidel. On Nun, nothing happens; on Gimmel (or, as kids call it,
"gimme!"), you get the whole pot; on Heh, you get half of the pot;
and on Shin, you put in one. When the pot is empty, everybody puts
in one. Keep playing until one person has everything. Then redivide
it and start over, because nobody likes a poor winner.

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Symbolic Hanukkah Foods

The traditional foods eaten during Hanukkah are symbolic of the events
being celebrated.

Most are fried in oil, symbolic of the oil that lasted eight days. Others
contain cheese to celebrate Judith's victory.

Loukoumades are deep-fried puffs dipped in honey or sugar to represent
the cakes the Maccabees ate, along with Soofganiyot (also Sufganiyot)
and zelebi. Pancakes are a traditional dish, serving as a reminder of the
food hurriedly prepared for the Maccabees as they went into battle,
along with the oil they are fried in as a reminder of the miraculous oil.

Latkes were originally symbolic of the cheesecakes served by the widow
Judith, and later evolved to the potato/vegetable fried latkes most
known today. Many cheese and dairy dishes are consumed in memory of
brave Judith.

A newer tradition in the United States is the baking of butter cookies
in the shape of Hanukkah symbols while relating the stories. Children
have fun helping and learn as they create.


The only religious observance related to this
holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles
are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah
(or sometimes a chanukkiah) that holds nine
candles: one for each night, plus a shammus
(servant) at a different height.

On the first night, one candle is placed at the far
right. The shammus candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited: l'hadlik neir (a general
prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer
thanking God for performing miracles for our
ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a
general prayer thanking God for allowing us
to reach this time of year).

After reciting the blessings, the first candle
is then lit using the shammus candle, and the
shammus candle is placed in its holder. The
candles are allowed to burn out on their own
after a minimum of one half hour. Each night,
another candle is added from right to left
(like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit
from left to right (because you pay honor
to the newer thing first). On the eighth
night, all nine candles (the eight Hanukkah
candles and the shammus) are lit.

Why the shammus candle? The Hanukkah
candles are for pleasure only; we are not
allowed to use them for any productive
purpose. We keep an extra one around
(the shammus), so that if we need to do
something useful with a candle, we don't
accidentally use the Hanukkah candles.
The shammus candle is at a different height
so that it is easily identified as the shammus.
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Hanukkah Links:
Holiday Net
Hanukkah 4 Anything
The Holiday Spot
Billy Bear 4 Kids

Graphics on this page supplied by:
Kid's Domain








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Updated: Tuesday, June 27, 2006
page design 2000-06 GrannyDancer
all rights reserved

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