...or Chanukah. After all, why wouldn’t you spell the same holiday two different ways?
It’s that time of year again when the rest of the world gets ready to celebrate Christmas on December 25, and Jews are scrambling to the Jewish calendar to find out where Hanukkah (or Chanukah) falls this year. Yes, we have a different calendar. Also, it’s year 5778, not 2017 (but hey who’s counting).
This year the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah or Chanukah) will be celebrated from Tuesday, December 12 through Wednesday, December 20. In its most basic terms, it’s Jewish Christmas, but not like Christmas at all, other than receiving gifts.
There’s no Santa, although Saturday Night Live did create the Hanukkah Harry character to fill a large void in the upbringing of every North American Jewish child’s life. That part was played by my uncle for one year only when I was in my early teens.
He rode his cart (not a sleigh) pulled by his three trusty mules (not reindeer) named Moishe, Herschel, and Schlomo. He hobbled into the house (he has bad knees of course, he always complains about them) with all the gifts for all the children in a burlap sack, not a fancy red velvet bag. No fancy bells that jingle and jive either; Hanukkah Harry had a kazoo and cowbell. That was a wacky and memorable year. Of course, he only shows up for one of the eight nights; eight would be quite the commitment.
The story of Chanukkah begins when Alexander the Great’s rule over Syria, Egypt and Palestine came to an end, when he was succeeded by Antiochus IV. Alexander allowed those living in the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions, that came to an end when Antiochus took over.
He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing Greek priests in the Jewish Temple, and massacring Jews, forbidding the practicing of the religion and desecrating the Temple by sacrificing pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar.
A small group of Jewish warriors led by Judah Maccabee, although their numbers were smaller than the Greek opposition they managed to defeat their enemies. In the battle the Temple was nearly ruined. Every Temple has a six-armed menorah that is supposed to burn through the night every night, in those days they used pure olive oil as fuel.
When rebuilding the Temple, the Jews found that there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, yet it burned for eight, and that’s the miracle of Chanukah and why we celebrate by lighting an eight-armed menorah!
To celebrate the family will get together around the menorah with eight-arms and one extra candle in the middle called the shamus (the candle you use to light all the others), say a prayer and light the candles. On the first night one candle is placed on the far right, the second night the first two candles from the right are lit, and it continues that way for all eight days.
The exchange of gifts isn’t a traditional part of Chanukah, but was added later to deal with the jealousy of Jews towards the wicked awesome gift giving holiday that is Christmas (seriously Christmas is awesome), that’s the truth!
There’s only one traditional food to eat at Chanukkah, that’s potato latkes or potato pancakes, it’s best served with applesauce or sour cream.
We also play dreidel, a gambling game played using a spinning top with four sides. Most families bet with pennies, because why let a good stereotype go to waste?