Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
December 2, 2018
Whether you spell it “Hanukkah” or “Chanukah,” the Jewish Festival of Lights will begin this year at sundown on Sunday, December 2 and continue for eight days. In Hebrew, the word Hanukkah is written חֲנֻכָּהor חנוכה (Ḥănukkāh). Different transliterations of the Hebrew have given rise to the variations in spelling in the Roman alphabet.
Why eight days? This festival celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army and the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE. The miracle of Hanukkah is that despite the fact that only one vial of oil was found, enough to allow the Temple lamp to burn for only one day, the lamp was able to burn for eight days. To put this in perspective for modern, non-Jewish readers: imagine if your cellphone had only a 10 percent charge, but you could use it for eight days.
The timing of the annual Hanukkah festival changes from year to year because it is based the Jewish calendar, but it will always occur from late November to late December. Unlike some religious days that call for fasting or refraining from certain activities, Hanukkah is a celebration that takes place with or without certain prayer rituals each evening after sundown as families light candles on a Menorah, a candelabrum with nine branches. One branch is typically placed above or below the others and its candle is used to light the other eight candles. This unique candle is called the shamash (Hebrew: שמש, “attendant”). Each night, one additional candle is lit by the shamash until all eight candles are lit together on the final night of the holiday
Because Hanukkah occurs around the time of Christmas, the two holidays have become intertwined in the American holiday season. But unlike Christmas observers, Hanukkah adherents go about their regular lives, attending work or school during the day, while they mark the evenings with meals featuring traditional fried foods that commemorate the importance of oil: latkes (potato pancakes) and jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot), for example.
As a child, what I knew of Judaism came from books. There were no Jews in my village. But I thought it must be the greatest thing in the world to be a Jewish child at Hanukkah and collect presents for eight days in a row. Later I learned that although many Jewish families do exchange gifts each night, the gifts often consist of “Hanukkah Gelt” (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil), games or books. A traditional game played during Hanukkah is spinning the Dreidel – a four-sided top.
In the 1970’s Hanukkah became more prominent during the winter holiday season as large public menorahs began to take their place along with Christmas trees in public spaces throughout the country.
According to the website www.Chabad.org, there are lessons to be learned from the lights of Hanukkah, including:
- Never be afraid to stand up for what is right, just as Judah Maccabee overcame daunting odds to defeat the Syrian Greek army.
- No matter how dark it may be outside, a candle of Godly goodness can transform darkness into light.
Because Hanukkah is a time for celebration, it has spawned many songs and skits here in the United States. Adam Sandler made quite a splash with his Hanukkah Song a few years back. But my favorite remains that produced by the Maccabeats, which manages to explain the history and traditions of Hanukkah in a catchy video.
But in keeping with the true meaning of the holiday, we at the Fernandina Observer wish all our Jewish readers love, peace and happiness this Hanukkah. Let it not be just the Festival of Lights, but also a festival of hope, happiness, love and health for everyone.