The History of Chanukah
Chanukah (The Festival of Lights) is not a religious holiday, but rather a celebration or festival. It celebrates the miracle of the light or oil in the Menorah (candelabra) burning for eight days when it had only enough oil to burn for one day. This was the miracle of Chanukah.
Chanukah lasts eight days from the 25th day of Kislev (usually in December) and commemorates the rededication of the temple in the first century of the Common Era by the Maccabees after its desecration. In fact, the word Chanukah means dedication.
It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights.
Lighting the Menorah
Tonight Jewish families will join together to celebrate this miracle of light by lighting the menorah for eight nights, each day adding another candle to the menorah until all eight shine on the eighth night.
There is a specific order for lighting the menorah. On the first night, we light one candle at the far right in the menorah. On each subsequent night, an additional candle is set to the left of the candles lit the previous night. The Shamash, the center candle, is lit and used to light the other candles from left to right. It is an honor for the newest candle to be lit first.
Two blessings are recited each night of Chanukah. The sheheheyanu is recited on the first night, which is blessing the family.
Traditionally Jewish people eat latkes (potato pancakes) or eat donuts since they are fried in oil. They also play with dreidels (a spinning top game), eat, sing and enjoy family. It is customary to give gelt (money) to children so they may give some of it to charity.
My Chanukah Memories
Family is the center of Judaism, and we always look forward to sharing time with family and friends.
I have fond memories of Chanukah. We also get together with extended family to celebrate. I grate potatoes by hand and then add the egg, flour and seasoning, and fry up tasty crispy pancakes. The children use chocolate coins (gelt) and play the dreidel game.
We give gifts at Chanukah, so when my three children were little, we would decorate boxes to hold the gifts — one box for each night. Last evening, my granddaughter was here to decorate Chanukah boxes with her Grammy and Auntie — that same tradition that her dad did when he was her age! We decorated our boxes with color, glitter, Stars of David, pictures of a menorah, dreidels and latkes.
The boxes glow with shiny paper, glitter and enthusiasm, and with feelings of joy.
Without prompting, my granddaughter burst into song. She is only four years old and already knows the Chanukah songs and was ready to celebrate early. She went home eager for the holiday after decorating her box. Her packages were in place and we counted the days on her fingers until Chanukah.
The excitement is growing as it is the season to share, give and celebrate. Everyone will find the menorah, dust it off, make sure that the old wax from the candles is gone, shine and polish it up, then wait in anticipation for the beauty and significance it brings!
I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season however you celebrate. May the light shine on forever in our menorah.
– Marsha Hoffert is a volunteer with the Parenting Program. She is a hospital visitor, group leader and parenting partner.