Holidays, Calendars and Seasons – Hanukkah
Table of Contents
Table of Dates correlate to Gregorian
The following dates on the Gregorian calendar will correlate to the celebrated dates of Hanukkah: 2023 – December 7th – 15th ; 2024 – December 25th – January 2nd ; 2025 – December 14th – 22nd ; 2026 – December 4th – 12th ; 2027 – December 24th – January 1st
The origin of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BCE. The origin of Hanukkah dates back to a period when the land of Israel was under the rule of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV.
Etymology and Timing
The word Hanukkah, also pronounced Chanukah, comes from the Hebrew word which means to ‘dedicate’. This is the historic meaning of the Holiday as the rededication of the Holy temple to God that occurred after the Maccabean’s regained control of Jerusalem.
A proper greeting on Hanukkah is to say “Hanukkah sameach,” which means Happy Hanukkah.
Origin and History
In 168 B.C.E. Antiochus IV enacted a series of oppressive decrees against the Jewish people, aimed at eradicating their religion and assimilating them into Hellenistic culture. The Jewish people were forbidden from practicing their faith, and the desecration of the Second Temple in Jerusalem took place. The Temple was looted, and idols were erected within its sacred walls.
A group of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees, led by Judah Maccabee, revolted against the oppressive rule. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Maccabees successfully recaptured Jerusalem in 164 BCE and proceeded to cleanse and rededicate the Second Temple.
According to the Talmud, when the Maccabees sought to light the Temple’s menorah (a seven-branched candelabrum), they found only one small cruse of pure olive oil that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Miraculously, the small amount of oil burned for eight days until new pure oil could be produced. This event is considered the miracle of Hanukkah.
To celebrate the rededication of the Temple and the miracle of the oil, Hanukkah is observed for eight nights. Each night, a candle is lit on a special nine-branched candelabrum called a menorah. The ninth branch, known as the shamash or “helper,” is used to light the other candles. Additionally, special prayers, songs, and traditional foods like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) are enjoyed during the holiday.
History of Maccabean revolt
The Maccabean Revolt was a significant event in Jewish history that took place in the second century BCE. It was a rebellion led by a group of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees against the oppressive rule of the Seleucid Empire, specifically under the reign of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
The Seleucid rule came after the conquests of Alexander the Great, the land of Israel came under the control of the Seleucid Empire, which was centered in Syria. The Seleucid kings allowed the Jewish people to practice their religion and maintain some autonomy for a period. However In 175 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended to the Seleucid throne.
Antiochus IV sought to impose Hellenistic culture and suppress the Jewish religion in an attempt to unify his empire under one culture and religion. Antiochus enacted a series of oppressive decrees that targeted the Jewish population, including the prohibition of Jewish religious practices, the desecration of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the imposition of Greek customs. These decrees included the setup of Jupiter in the Holy Temple and the sacrificial use of pig’s blood.
The Maccabean Revolt began by a Jewish priest named Mattathias, who refused to comply with Antiochus’ orders and sacrificed to a Greek deity. Mattathias killed a Jewish collaborator who was about to make the sacrifice and subsequently fled with his sons to the hills. Many Jews who were dissatisfied with the Seleucid rule joined Mattathias and his sons.
After Mattathias died, his son Judah Maccabee assumed leadership of the rebellion. Under Judah’s military leadership, the Maccabees conducted guerilla warfare against the powerful Seleucid forces, using their knowledge of the local terrain to their advantage. Despite being heavily outnumbered and facing significant odds, the Maccabees achieved several military victories against the Seleucid forces.
In 164 BCE, they recaptured Jerusalem and cleansed and rededicated the desecrated Second Temple. This event is commemorated during the holiday of Hanukkah. Following the rededication of the Temple, the Maccabees established an independent Jewish state in Judea, marking a period of Jewish self-rule. The descendants of the Maccabees, known as the Hasmoneans, ruled as both religious and political leaders.
Eventually the Hasmoneans faced internal conflicts and struggles for power. The Hasmonean kingdom eventually fell under Roman influence, and in 63 BCE, Judea came under direct Roman rule. The Maccabean Revolt is remembered as a symbol of Jewish resistance against religious persecution and cultural assimilation. It had a lasting impact on Jewish identity and the preservation of Jewish traditions. The story of the Maccabees and their struggle for religious freedom continues to be celebrated and remembered by Jewish communities around the world.
Religious Beliefs & Ceremonies
Hanukkah serves as a symbol of Jewish resistance against oppression and the triumph of light over darkness. It has become one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays, offering a time for families to come together, light the menorah, exchange gifts, play games with a spinning top called a dreidel, and retell the story of Hanukkah’s origins.
The dreidel is a spinning top that holds symbolic significance during the holiday of Hanukkah. It is a traditional game played by children and adults alike during the celebration. The dreidel itself has a square shape with four sides, each marked with a Hebrew letter.
The letters on the dreidel, which vary depending on the region, are Nun, Gimel, Hey, and Shin. These letters form an acronym for the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” (meaning “a great miracle happened there” in Hebrew). It serves as a reminder of the miracle of Hanukkah and the rededication of the Second Temple.
The dreidel game is typically played using gelt, which are chocolate coins wrapped in gold or silver foil. Each player starts with an equal number of coins, and they take turns spinning the dreidel. The letter that lands facing up determines the player’s action: Nun means nothing happens, Gimel means the player takes all the gelt in the pot, Hey means the player takes half the pot, and Shin means the player contributes to the pot. The game adds an element of chance and excitement to the Hanukkah festivities.
The dreidel is associated with the time of the Maccabean Revolt when the Jewish people were forbidden from studying Torah. To continue their studies, they would gather in secret and use spinning tops as a cover. If they sensed any danger or interruption, they could quickly hide the tops and pretend to be playing a harmless game. The dreidel has become a recognizable symbol of Jewish culture.
Significant Icons or Attributes
The menorah holds great significance during the celebration of Hanukkah. The menorah used during Hanukkah is a special nine-branched candelabrum called a Hanukkah menorah or a Hanukkiah. It is different from the seven-branched menorah that was used in the ancient Temple.
Hanukkah is often referred to as the Festival of Lights. Lighting the menorah is a way to spread light and joy during the darkest time of the year. The candles are typically placed in a window or a central location within the home to publicize the miracle and share the light with others.
The lighting of the menorah symbolizes the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the rededicated Second Temple. Each night of Hanukkah, an additional candle is lit, progressing from one to eight, representing the eight nights that the oil miraculously burned. The menorah serves as a reminder of this extraordinary event and the resilience of the Jewish people.
The menorah lighting is often done in the presence of family and loved ones. It serves as a unifying ritual, bringing people together to celebrate and commemorate the holiday. Each family member participates in the lighting, often taking turns to kindle the candles, sing songs, and share in the joyous spirit of Hanukkah.
Lighting the menorah is a religious ritual observed during Hanukkah. The blessings are recited before lighting the candles, and specific rules govern the order and placement of the candles on the menorah. It is customary to light the menorah at sundown, and the candles are allowed to burn for at least 30 minutes after nightfall.
The menorah is a powerful symbol of Jewish identity and pride. Displaying and lighting the Hanukkah menorah serves as a visual representation of Jewish heritage and tradition. It symbolizes the Jewish people’s commitment to preserving their faith and culture throughout history. The menorah holds deep symbolism during Hanukkah, representing the miracle, the spreading of light, Jewish identity, religious observance, and the importance of family and unity in celebrating the holiday.
Symbolic and Associated Foods
Food plays a significant role in the celebration of Hanukkah, with various traditional dishes enjoyed during the holiday.
Latkes – Latkes are perhaps the most iconic Hanukkah dish. These are potato pancakes made by shredding potatoes, mixing them with onions, eggs, and flour, and then frying them until they turn golden and crispy. Latkes are typically served with applesauce or sour cream.
Sufganiyot – Sufganiyot are jelly-filled doughnuts that are deep-fried until they become light and fluffy. They are often dusted with powdered sugar and sometimes filled with other sweet fillings like chocolate or caramel. Sufganiyot symbolize the oil used in the Hanukkah miracle.
Brisket – Brisket, a slow-cooked beef dish, is a common main course during Hanukkah. It is often braised with onions, garlic, and various spices until it becomes tender and flavorful. Brisket is a comforting and hearty dish that is enjoyed by many during the holiday.
Challah – Challah, a braided egg bread, is a staple in Jewish cuisine and is often served during festive occasions, including Hanukkah. The challah may be shaped into a menorah or other symbolic shapes for the holiday. It is a versatile bread that can be enjoyed as part of the Hanukkah meal or used for making sandwiches.
Rugelach – Rugelach are small rolled pastries filled with sweet fillings such as jam, chocolate, nuts, or raisins. They are crescent-shaped and have a flaky texture. Rugelach is a popular treat during Hanukkah and is often enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee.
Kugel – Kugel is a baked pudding or casserole dish made with ingredients like noodles, potatoes, or vegetables. Sweet kugel, made with ingredients such as cinnamon, sugar, and raisins, is commonly served during Hanukkah as a side dish or dessert.
Matzo Ball Soup – While matzo ball soup is traditionally associated with Passover, it is also enjoyed during Hanukkah. This soup features light and fluffy dumplings made from matzo meal, which is unleavened bread. The matzo balls are cooked in a flavorful broth with vegetables, often chicken-based.