Day 12 of this Christmas challenge is also day 3 of Hanukkah this year, and since Christmas and Hanukkah are both very important holidays that always come around the same time of year, I think it is only fitting to give a big shout out to Hanukkah and our Jewish friends as well.
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday which celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the larger Syrian army. It also celebrates a miracle that happened during this time, where just a day’s supply of oil allowed the menorah in the rededicated Temple in Jerusalem to remain lit for eight days. According to I Maccabees, the celebration of Hanukkah was instituted by Judas Maccabeus in 165 bce to celebrate his victory over Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who had invaded Judaea, tried to Hellenize the Jews, and desecrated the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Most of us know that Hanukkah lasts for eight nights, and during the holiday, you light the menorah, eat delicious fried latkes and spin the dreidel to win some chocolate. But there is much more to the Jewish holiday than just good food and candles—and it’s not just about getting presents all week long.
If you want to learn more about the Festival of Lights, here are eight interesting things you may not know about Hanukkah.
- Hanukkah itself is NOT actually the Jewish holiday. In fact, it’s not even mentioned in the Torah. But because of its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah became a widely celebrated holiday beginning in the late 1800s.
- The Menorah itself is actually what is known as Hanukiah. An actual menorah has seven placeholders all at the same height. A Hanukkiah has nine, with one at a different height.
- During Hanukkah, Israelis feast on “sufganiyot”—oily jelly donuts—as the traditional holiday dessert. During this time of year, 17.5 million doughnuts are eaten.
- Studying the Torah was outlawed in ancient Greece, so the Jewish people played with the dreidel in order to fool the Greeks if they were caught.
- Gift-giving isn’t a traditional part of Hanukkah, but kids were given gelt money as an incentive to study the Torah, but because Hanukkah is close to Christmas, and gift giving is a big part of the Christmas tradition, gifts have also become a part of the Hanukkah traditions as well. This also most probably started around the late 1800’s, when celebrating Hanukkah became so widespread.
- There are actually 16 different ways to spell Hanukkah. Since Hanukkah is transliterated from Hebrew letters, there are many different ways to spell the name of the holiday. The most common in English are “Hanukkah” or “Chanukah.”
- Hanukkah candles are added right to left, but lit left to right so the newest is lit first.
- Jimmy Carter was the first president to take official notice of the holiday in 1979, and each president since has recognized Hanukkah with a special menorah-lighting ceremony.
So Happy Hanukkah to all our Jewish friends, as well as a Merry Christmas to all our non-Jewish friends. Either way, Happy Holidays. May they be filled with love and good tidings to all.