Although Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday it is the best known to non-Jewish people. This is due in part to its proximity to Christmas. Chanukah (Hanukah or Hanukkah) begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev and lasts for eight days. Chanukah like other Jewish holidays begins at sundown.
In 168 BCE (before the common era), a Greek king named Antiochus ruled Jerusalem. He forced his religion and deities upon the people. He took over the great temple of Jerusalem, burned the holy books, and condemned the scholars to death.
When a group of soldiers entered the village of Modin they met with a disgruntled and rebellious group of men. They would not do as the soldiers’ bid and a fight ensued resulting in the death of the soldiers. The men fled to the mountains where they remained attacking and raiding the king’s army for years. These men became known as the Maccabees.
When the Maccabees were finally able to return home, the leaders vowed to cleanse the temple and rededicate the temple to Jehovah. To accomplish this, they needed to reestablish the eternal light. Unfortunately, they found only a small vessel of consecrated oil. It would take eight days to make new oil. There was no way that small amount of oil would last, not even for a day. But a miracle happened. It did last-for eight days. The name Chanukah means “Dedication” which refers to this rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Chanukah celebrates this miracle as well as good over bad and lasts for eight days. One candle is lit each day. A menorah traditionally holds the candles. Other traditions include giving (or receiving) a gift each night of Chanukah, receiving Chanukah gelt (foil covered chocolate coins), singing songs, spinning dreidels, and feasting on wonderful food typically cooked in and with oil.
A menorah called a hanukiyah during Chanakah is an elaborate candleholder. It holds nine candles. The eight outer candles (four on each side) are all be the same height. The ninth candle is the shamash, or helper. It is in the center and higher or lower than the other candles.
The menorah is placed where it is easily view by everyone, in a window or in a central place in the home. The menorah is lit just after twilight and with all the family members present (if possible). The shamash is lit first and it is used to light the other candles. The candles are lit from left to right and should burn at least 30 minutes into the evening. Blessings are said during this process.
Spinning the dreidel is a favorite pastime during Chanukah. The traditional game is played for Chanukah gelt (foil covered chocolate coins). A dreidel is a special four-sided top. Each side has a symbol that dictates what should happen next.
These letters also stand for “A great miracle happened there”. In Israel Pey is used in place of Shin meaning “A great miracle happened here.”
Other popular dreidel games include contests to see who can spin their top the longest or who can spin the most dreidels at the same time.
Why is the dreidel played during Chanukah?
The writings of Kabbalistic tell that during the Greek rule reading the Torah (the Jewish holy book) was illegal and to study it was punishable by death. However, this did not stop the Jews. They would study the Torah and when soldiers would come close they would quickly replace the Torah with the dreidel, a harmless game.
Where did the dreidel come from?
The game is based on old German gambling games. The word dreidel is a derivative of the German word for top.
Use the navigation area on the left to find crafts and recipes for Chanukah.