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Jews turn to many traditions to celebrate Hanukkah

The Jewish community, both local and around the world, will celebrate Hanukkah from December 22-30. Here’s some interesting facts about the holiday you may not know.

  • It has multiple spellings. Because the word is transliterated from Hebrew, there’s not an exact English equivalent for the sounds made by the Hebrew characters. The traditional spelling, though, is Chanukah.
  • Hanukkah celebrates a military victory and miracle. During the eight nights of Hanukkah, Jews light a candle to pay tribute to a miracle that occurred back in 165 BC. The Maccabees, an army of Jewish rebels, conquered the Syrian-Greeks, who had outlawed Jewish practices and defiled the holy Temple in Jerusalem by putting an altar of Zeus in it and sacrificing pigs. The Maccabees then rededicated and reclaimed the temple, and although they only had enough oil to light a lamp for one day, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days.

READ: Jews are now praying at the Temple Mount

  • It is not the biggest Jewish holiday. The Torah makes no mention of Hanukkah, and the Jewish faith places much more importance on holidays such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah.
  • Hanukkah food is not the healthiest. Jews fry foods in oil to acknowledge the miracle of the oil. They may dine on latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), kugel (noodle or potato casserole) and gelt (chocolate coins.
  • The letters on a dreidel form an acronym. Each of the four sides of a dreidel has a Hebrew character: Nun, Gimel, Hay or Shin. The four letters are said to stand for the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” — meaning “A great miracle happened there” — which refers to the miraculous, long-lasting oil.
  • The dates change each year. Although it always starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, that date can correspond to anywhere from late November to late December.
  • Some Jews give money instead of gifts. Because holiday gift-giving plays a big role for both Christians and secular people, many Jews now give and receive Hanukkah presents instead of money. To acknowledge tradition, though, most Jews give children gelt in the form of chocolate coins wrapped in gold or silver foil.
  • Menorahs have 44 candles. Hanukkah menorahs have nine branches, eight for each night plus a helper candle called a shamash that lights the others. Jews light the candles in the menorah from left to right, lighting a new candle, candles for the previous days, and the helper candle each night.
  • Some candles are scented. Besides buying candles in different colors and non-toxic varieties, there are also scented candles available for Hanukkah menorahs.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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