By Edith Morgan
The celebration season is upon us, and this year the holidays seem closer one upon the other than usual. And in one way or another, most major religions are observing holidays – joyful events, with lights and candles.
And so, on the eve of Sunday, November 28, Jews around the world will light the first candle of the eight day observation of Hanukkah.
This holiday is not one of the major observances, unlike Passover and the New Year and Yom Kippur, but it is an extended occasion for joy, feasting, family get-togethers and free enjoyment of food, games, wine and entertainment.
Hanukkah celebrates the occurrence of a minor “miracle” over 2,000 years ago when once again the Jews recaptured that Temple in Jerusalem and set about removing pagan idols, restoring walls and floors, bringing back some of what had been stolen or destroyed and preparing the Temple for worship again.
As the legend goes, when they tried to burn the oil in the Temple, there was only one day’s worth of oil left, but miraculously it burned for EIGHT days – hence the eight-day-long celebration. The holiday commemorates the regaining of the Temple, and therefore is one of great joy and celebration. Coincidentally, it comes around harvest time and at the beginning of winter for those of us who live in zones where there are four seasons and where we like to have fun before winter sets in …
The traditional eight-armed candelabra, known as a Menorah, also has one extra arm, for the servant (the Shamash) who is used to light all the other candles, one more each night, until all eight are lit. (A fun math problem is to ask the children how many candles it will take for all eight days). While there is no real gift exchange, there is “gelt” (money) which nowadays often takes the form of chocolate-filled gold or silver coins.
There are some traditional foods associated with Hanukkah: probably the best known is “latkes” (potato pancakes), usually served hot with sour cream or apple sauce. Today some variations also include latkes made with sweet potatoes.
I have a whole collection of “Dreidels,” the four-cornered top that is the source of a lot of the games played at Hanukkah. They usually contain a Hebrew letter on each side, spelling out the first letter of the Hebrew saying that ”A miracle happened here.” In some homes children and adults make their own dreidels, and you can get quite skilful at spinning them like tops and winning games.
There is also music associated with this holiday, most commonly sung is the one to the tune of the well-known hymn, ”Rock of Ages.” As a child I knew several verses in German we sang at home as we lit the candles.
So, enjoy this holiday and its many fun days, and eat and be merry!