At this point we’ve pretty much all heard of Hanukkah, but some might not know exactly what it’s about. Well Hanukkah, which officially starts tonight, is in the most simple terms, the commemoration of a miracle.
In 165 BCE, the Jewish people led the Maccabean revolt, winning back control of their holy temple in Jerusalem after many years of religious oppression. As recounted in the Jewish holy text know as the Talmud, the temple needed to be rededicated, including the burning of kosher oil throughout the night. But new oil would take eight days to extract, purify, and bless, and there was only one day’s worth of untainted oil at the ready. Unbelievably though, this small amount of oil burned for all eight nights, which is why the Hanukkah celebration (sometimes also called the festival of lights) is eight nights long.
During Hanukkah, the candles of the menorah are lit, the story retold, and traditional songs sung. Fried foods like jam-filled doughnuts and latkes (potato pancakes) are eaten, and gifts of gold coins, chocolate, stars of David, and dreidels are given to children, all to keep the memory of the great temple miracle alive. Dreidel toys even have a direct connection to this remembrance, with their markings (the Hebrew characters Nun, Gimel, Hey, and Shin) forming the acronym NGHS for Nes gadol haya sham, meaning “a great miracle happened here.”
Playing traditional dreidel games (with chocolate gelt coins as collateral) is incredibly fun, and a great way to celebrate with Jewish friends and neighbors. There are a few different versions, but here are the basic rules:
All players start with an equal number of chocolate coins, and each puts a single chocolate into the center pot. They then take turns spinning the dreidel, seeing which side is up when it lands. When the dreidel lands with the “nun” character up, the spinner takes nothing from the pot. When the “hey” is up, the player takes half. “Gimel” he/she takes it all, and “shin” a single piece must be added to the pile. Whomever can lay claim to all candies in play first is the winner.
Eight Days of culture, camaraderie, food, and gifts? Who wouldn’t want to celebrate a holiday like Hanukkah?