Hanukkah is a Jewish festival commemorating the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. The word ‘Hanukkah’ means ‘Dedication’ in Hebrew. It is also known as the Festival of Lights, Chanukah and the Feast of Dedication.
Some common Hanukkah traditions include:
- Lighting the Menorah. On each night of Hanukkah, Jewish families light a candelabra called the menorah. The menorah has one central candle called the shammus and eight additional candles–four on each side. Each night the family adds one candle to the menorah moving from right to left and then lights the candles that are in place from left to right. The act is meant to symbolize each of the eight nights that the lantern burned in the temple. Every night the shammus candle is lit while the family recites prayers.
- Eating Fried Foods. Fried potato pancakes called latkes, fried sufganyot jelly-filled pastries and other fried foods are usually eaten during Hanukkah as a reminder of the oil that lit the lantern.
- Spinning Dreidels. Small spinning tops are often played with during Hanukkah celebrations. The tradition arises from the fact that the Jews living under Antioch’s rule often pretended to gamble with the tops while they were actually reading the torah.
- Eating Chocolate Coins. Chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil are often eaten as treats at Hanukkah. The coins are meant to symbolize the fact that after the Maccabees won independence for Israel, Jewish Kings were able to return to power and mint money.
- Exchanging Gifts. While gift giving is not as important to Hanukkah as it is to Christmas, many families will exchange one gift per night throughout the holiday.