While Christmas is probably the more known holiday at this time of year, there are a few others that also take place around the December period, with one of them being Hanukkah. As my best friend, Lily, is Jewish, I really wanted to learn about her culture and beliefs, so I have invited her to guest post today and share the basics of the Jewish holiday.
Hello guys! Lily The Lost Girl here, otherwise known as just Lily. My best friend, your home girl, Jazz, has asked me to explain Hanukkah – the Jewish celebration which most people know as the Jewish version of Christmas. My mother’s side of the family has a Jewish heritage which we both find incredibly interesting, so we tend to lean more towards Judaism than any other religion out there. There have been times in my life where I could have given up my faith, but the passion and the love my mum shows for her faith gives me strength and inspiration to carry on. I’ll stop boring you with my backstory, so let’s get down to it! Let’s get ready to play with the dreidels and light those menorahs!
What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration of which takes place over 8 days, on the 25th day of the Kislev (a month in Hebrew) which usually falls in November-December, the celebration commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem where, in short Jews fled from Greek-Syrian oppressors during the Maccabean Revolt. The King at the time condemned the local Jews to a life ‘worshipping’ Greek Gods that they just simply could not believe in. Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons Jews took back their hand and cleansed a Temple that had been tainted by their oppressors.
Whilst doing this Judah found enough oil that could keep the menorah’s light burning for one day at the most. However, a miracle happened. The oil lasted for 8 days. Burning day and night. Giving the Jews hope and comfort knowing that God was with them and keeping them safe. Hence why many Jews today call Hanukkah The Festival of Lights.
Traditions and celebrations
Hanukkah revolves around the lighting of the menorah – a nine branched candle basically – where another candle gets added and lit after sundown throughout the 8 days of the holiday. Each candle represents a day of the festival. The ninth candle/ branch is called Shamash which is used to light the candles. Traditionally, you are meant to recite blessings and prayers during the lighting of the menorah – however each family does it differently these days. You are then to place the menorah in a window to remind others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.
Just like Christmas, Hanukkah involves an exchange of gifts. Instead of giving friends and family what they want, we give them what they need. For example, I may not need tickets to go and see Taylor Swift, but I would need money to pay for my driving test. That may not be the best example in the entire world, but hopefully you see my point. Again, families do this differently, some do it like Christmas where presents are exchanged on one day and focus on their religion/ faith for other days. Some give others one present a day over the festival, some give more. There is no right or wrong way to do things as each family is different.
Traditionally children play with dreidels which are essentially four sided spinning-top toys. Surprisingly, you can have quite a bit of fun with dreidels. However, many families enjoy making traditional food that is associated with the holiday, or reading books that relate to the festivities / re-enforce their beliefs and faith in God.
Traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil, for obvious reasons. Some of the foods we eat are latkes (potato pancakes) which are the yummiest things on this planet! Each family makes them differently and gives them a unique twist to them. My mum makes me a version of latkes with cheese. Again, it’s very yummy and a perfect comfort food that makes you feel warm and festive inside!
One food I bet you didn’t expect to see on this list is jam filled doughnuts! But they are indeed a part of Hanukkah as a tradition. Needless to say these are one of the most popular dishes amongst Jewish families, and many other families also. They’re sweet, simple, and can make someone’s day that much better by eating a jam doughnut! There is a Hebrew word for it, however most of us just call them doughnuts these days, but in case you were wondering, the Hebrew word is sufganiyot. No, I don’t know how to pronounce it.
I struggled to think of any music in regards to Hanukkah. Compared to Christmas carols and singles, Hanukkah has hardly anything along those lines. However there are quite a few songs about Hanukkah one of which being I Have A Little Dreidel, which is probably one of the most popular and well known songs associated with Hanukkah.
I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay,
And when it’s dry and ready
O dreidel I shall play.
O dreidel dreidel dreidel
I made it out of clay,
And when it’s dry and ready,
O dreidel I shall play.
It’s one of the simplest and sweetest songs, at least in my opinion it is. Jews don’t take much, we try and make things work, especially if we don’t have much money and such. This song makes me very happy and really makes me think of my faith.
Another song that is sung a lot around Hanukkah is Chanukah, Chanukah.
Chanukah, Chanukah, What a lovely holiday!
Cheerful lights around us shine, Children have fun and play.
Chanukah, Chanukah, The dreidel spins and spins.
Spin your top until it stops, Have a good time, see who wins!
Chanukah, Chanukah is a folk song which emerged from Jerusalem. It has been sung and enjoyed for many years and is something many Jewish folk think symbolises the very spirit of Hanukkah/ Chanukah.
There is of course a handful of singles that a few singer-songwriters have released over the years. A popular song being Light One Candle (1983). It’s a song that encourages Jewish people to remember the history of the holiday and continue their heritage and be unashamed.
My memories of Hanukkah
I remember sleepless nights, or nights when I was sick, and my mum telling me the stories surrounding Hanukkah and Judaism in general. It sparked my interest in me, not just for my religion, but in general. Her faith gave me the strongest faith and love ever imaginable. And that’s something I believe keeps me strong and positive on days that get too much for me.
Something you should be aware of is that Hanukkah isn’t mentioned in The Torah. It’s an event that happened during or after it was written as a holy scripture. Hence why different parts of the world have different versions of what happened when the menorah burned for 8 days. Some say the Jews took refuge in the Temple, others say they cleansed it from their oppressors’ sins and energy to reclaim it as their sanctuary.
The main point of Hanukkah is expressing gratitude and love. Gratitude and love for your friends, family, the life God gave you. But most of all, gratitude for everything God has done for you, and with you. It’s not about presents, or sparkling lights hanging from your rooftops or even the delicious food that gets served. It’s about remembering the past, being thankful for it and the lessons you have learnt. Accepting that it is the past, and you have learnt a lesson from it. And look forward to the future with love and compassion, the very same thing God does for you every single day.
And that’s basically the need-to-know about this holiday. I hope you enjoyed learning about Hanukkah. Hanukkah Sameach! Happy Hanukkah! Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza or anything else, happy holidays and have a blessed time.
Do you celebrate Hanukkah? How much did you know about the Jewish holiday?
Jazz is a Disney, tea and pop culture enthusiast with a passion for blogging. Also a proud introvert.