Community & Current Events

What is Hanukkah?

By: Adell Shneer

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

What is Hanukkah?

By: Adell Shneer

Hanukkah often gets depicted as the Jewish version of Christmas. Though the two holidays fall at the same time of year, they are actually very different. Hanukkah, a festival of lights, is rich in history and meaning. Adell Schneer, a food writer for Canadian Living, shares what Hanukkah means to her.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees around 165 BCE. After a three-year-long uprising against the ruling Assyrian-Greek regime, the Maccabees recaptured the temple and restored it to its traditional Jewish service.

The word Hanukkah, Hebrew for 'dedication,' refers to the rededication of the temple after it had been defiled. According to tradition, only enough oil was found to light the temple menorah for one night. Miraculously, the small amount of oil burned for eight days. We celebrate Hanukkah by lighting the hannukiah, a menorah holding nine candles, while reciting blessings.

In our family, just before dinner our kids take turns each night lighting the candles. On the first night, we light the shamash (servant) candle and the first candle. On the second night, the shamash and two candles and so on until the eighth and final night, when we light all the candles. While lighting the candles, we recite blessings and sing traditional Hanukkah songs.

The dreidel game

Dreidel is a children's game of chance. Everyone starts with about 10 treats. (In our family, we use chocolate-wrapped coins, or Hanukkah gelt.) At the start of each game, players throw one item into the pot and take turns spinning the dreidel, a four-sided top. The dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each side that together sum up the Hanukkah story: nun for nes, meaning miracle; gimel for gadol, meaning big; hey forhaya, meaning happened; and shin for sham, meaning there. Taken together, it means “A great miracle happened there.&"

After spinning, whichever letter is on top of the dreidel decides whether the player wins or loses treats. In our family, we play with these rules: nun - you don't put in and don't receive; gimmel - you win big and get the whole pot; hey - you take half the pot (if it is odd you get half plus one); and shin - you have to throw one in. The game continues until all but one player runs out of coins. In our family, one of the kids usually ends up with a large stash of chocolate coins to enjoy - and hopefully share.

The Feast
Another part of the celebration of Hanukkah is the joyous gathering for a meal.

Click here for a recipe for an easy no-fuss Hanukkah meal the whole family - including the cook! - will enjoy.

Potato latkes, crispy potato pancakes, are a central part of a Hanukkah feast. The oil used to fry the latkes
celebrates the miracle of one day's oil lasting for eight.

Click here to pick from some of our best potato latke recipes. You're sure to find a version that suits you.

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What is Hanukkah?

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