Hanukkah is a religious holidays observed by the Jews and it commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple or the Holy temple of Jerusalem in the 165 BCE by Judas Maccabaeus at the time of the Jewish revolt that was led by the Maccabees against the Seleucid Dynasty.
This festival goes on for a time span of eight days and nights. According to the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah begins on 25th day on the month of Kislev which might take place around the end of November to the end of December in the Georgian calendar.
This festival is also called the Feast of Dedication and the Festival of Lights. One of the traditions of Hanukkah is lighting up a unique candle holder having nine branches. This candelabrum is called the Hanukiah or the Menorah.
One additional candle is lit on each night of Hanukkah leading to the lighting up of the final or the eighth one on the last night. A Menorah usually has eight branches along with an additional branch; this additional light which is used to kindle the other candles is called Shamash.
A Shamash is usually placed below or above the rest of the candles so that it can be easily distinguished. Other Hanukkah traditions include consumption of fried foods like latkes and doughnuts and playing with a special type of spinning top called dreidel.
Rituals and Customs
Series of customs and rituals are carried out throughout the eight days celebration of Hanukkah which is either communal or family-based. On these days, special additions are made to the daily prayer services and an extra section gets added to the blessing or grace after meals.
Hanukkah is not a holiday of Sabbath and one does not have to refrain oneself from carrying out the activities that are forbidden on Sabbath as mentioned in Shulkhan Arukh. Jews observing Hanukkah go to work on those eight days but might come back early in order to light the Menorah at night.
It is not necessary for the schools to remain closed due to the religious beliefs but the all the schools in Israel closes on the second day and remains closed for the rest of the days of Hanukkah. It is customary for the families to exchange presents at nightfall which includes games, clothes and books.
Oil-based foods like potato pancakes, jelly doughnuts and latkes are consumed on a large proportion during these days in order to mark the importance of oil during Hanukkah celebrations. Jews also consume dairy products during this time in honor of Judith who had killed the invading General, Holofernes, by feeding him cheese which in turn made him thirsty.
Judith offered Holofernes with wine to quench his thirst and when he was intoxicated under the influence of the spirit, she beheaded him. Jews all over the world are seen lighting candles on the days of Hanukkah with the number of candles lit increasing each night till the very last day of Hanukkah. Sometimes the candles are replaced by oil-based lamps and electric lights at places where igniting any object is not permitted.
A special eight branched Menorah is lit during these days. The main objective of lighting up so many candles and oil lamps is not to illuminate the house from within but from without so that every passerby is reminded of the holiday’s essence, triumph of the pure over impure, on seeing the lights. These lamps are placed near the windows or the front doors so that they are easily visible from outside.
In many Orthodox Jewish houses only the males are allowed to kindle the Menorah. In Ashkenazi ritual, it is mandatory to chant the Ma’oz Tzur hymn every night after lighting the candles. Apart from exchanging gifts many families encourage the children to give charity to the less fortunate in lieu of their Hanukkah presents. The last day is called Zot Hanukkah and is a day of repentance.