Jewish families around the world will gather Sunday evening to celebrate Hanukkah and light the first candles on their menorahs. The eight-day holiday celebrates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem following a massacre ordered by the Greek-Syrian King Antiochus IV that initially pushed Jews from the city.
The celebration of Hanukkah has changed dramatically in the past century, transforming from a relatively small and overlooked holiday with scant religious significance into the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. The celebration today generally involves giving gifts, spinning dreidels and eating latkes. It’s a holiday in Israel, however not a particularly significant one there.
The celebrations begin Dec. 6 and last through Dec. 14. For those unfamiliar, here are the answers to a few questions you might have about the holiday.
What’s The Story Behind The Celebration?
In the Book of Leviticus, Jews are instructed to keep a fire burning at all times in their tabernacle or temple, and after a small army of Jews, led by the Maccabees, retook Jerusalem thousands of years ago, they needed to rededicate the second temple. There was one small hang-up, though: The story goes there was only enough oil to keep the menorah burning for one day. In what has been described as a miracle, the oil kept burning for eight days and allowed for more oil to be found. Today Jews light a special menorah in honor of the good fortune, the hanukiah, which is an adaptation of the seven-branch version and has nine branches.
What Do People Do To Celebrate?
Every day and every night, a branch of the hanukiah is lit by the middle branch, which is higher than the rest. A new candle is added each day in celebration of each of the days that holy oil stayed lit thousands of years ago. Other celebrations include giving gifts in celebration and placing the menorah in the front window so that people will be reminded of the miracle.
There’s food, too! The holiday is probably best known for latkes, or potato pancakes, but there are some other Hanukkah staples. Deep-fried doughnuts, known as sufganiyot, are also pretty popular. Latkes are usually accompanied by applesauce or sour cream.