Jewish Hanukkah (hah-nuh-kuh), also spelled Chanuka, is the Jewish “Festival of Lights” and celebrates the victory of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, and of spirituality over materiality.
Chanukah commemorates and publicizes two miracles:
First, the 2nd century BCE victory of a greatly outnumbered and under equipped army of Jews, known as the “Maccabees,” over the powerful Greek army that occupied the Holy Land. The victory was followed by the liberation and rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem, which had been defiled and contaminated by the Greeks.
Second, when the Maccabees sought to light the Temple’s Menorah, they found only one small cruse of pure and undefiled olive oil – an amount sufficient for fueling the Menorah for only one day. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for the eight days needed to prepare new oil under conditions of ritual purity.
Hanukkah begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and lasts for eight days. For the year 2010, on the Gregorian calendar, the celebration of Hanukkah will begin at sunset on Wednesday, December 1st and will continue until sunset on December 9th.
As indicated by the lack of religious restrictions on work (other than for a brief period after the menorah lighting), Hanukkah is a comparatively minor Jewish holiday. However, in North America, Hanukkah generally has a place equal to Passover as a symbol of Jewish identity.
Unlike many other Jewish holidays, some of which require intense spiritual reflection and/or elaborate preparation, Hanukkah is easy to celebrate.
The central ritual of the holiday is the lighting of the menorah (a nine branched candelabra) on each of the eight days of Hanukkah. The menorah is lit after nightfall (except for Friday afternoon, when the candles are lit shortly before sunset): a single flame on the first night, two on the second, and so on until the eighth night when all eight lights are kindled.
Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) during the holiday. Other Chanukah customs include playing with the dreidel (a spinning top) and the giving of gelt, gifts of money, to children.
Special readings and praise songs focus on liberty and freedom.
Traditional Greeting: “Happy Hanukkah.” The American Jewish Year Book (published in 2007 by the American Jewish Committee) reports that the Jewish population in the United States is currently between 6.0 and 6.4 million and the world’s Jewish population is estimated at 13.155 million. During Hanukkah we ask that each of you pause for a few moments and, in a manner appropriate in your faith tradition and/or belief system, join with us in sending thoughts of love and good will to our Jewish brothers and sisters throughout the world.
Shalom Salaam Peace