While families prepare for their Christmas Eve feast once the sun sets Saturday, Dec. 24, another major holiday will kick off its first night of celebration.
Hanukkah, an eight-night celebration, begins strangely late in the calendar year this holiday season. Hanukkah will start on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month Kislev. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, which means it is based on the moon’s rotation around the earth. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and is based on the earth’s rotation around the sun. Because of the two varying cycles, the 25th day of Kislev can fall anywhere from late November to late December.
What exactly is the meaning of Hanukkah?
Approximately 2,200 years ago, a Jewish Maccabean revolt occurred against the GreekSyrian Empire to take back the Second Temple of Jerusalem. After the conflict, the Maccabees succeeded in reacquiring their temple, although it was left in shambles.
The Maccabees were left with only enough oil left to light the temple for one night, but miraculously, the temple stayed lit for eight straight nights.
Fast-forward to the present day, Jews commemorate this story with the eight-night holiday of Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights. On the first night at sunset, a nine-branch candelabrum known as the Menorah is lit.
Every night after, one more candle is lit with the extra candle, called the Shamash. On the eighth and final night, every branch of the Menorah will have a glowing candle.
It is tradition that the youngest member of the family with the ability to read Hebrew say the three blessings of Hanukkah. The first blessing is over the candles. The second blessing is for the Hanukkah Miracle. And the third blessing is the Shehecheyanu or who has kept us alive, and is only recited on the first night.
After the Menorah is finally lit, eight nights of celebration follow. The first night is filled with singing songs, gambling chocolate gold coins in games of dreidel and the sweet smell of potato latkes wafting from the kitchen. The crusted potato pancakes taste especially sweet with a side of applesauce. Also, the most important part of the holiday is of course the gift-giving.
Unlike one visit from Santa on Christmas, Jewish kids get to enjoy one gift for eight nights. On the first night, a child may receive a special present that towers the rest. I remember when I was about seven, I received a new set of golf clubs on the first night of Hanukkah and was so happy I was screaming. After the first night, presents tend to be small, maybe a small toy or a deck of cards. The suspense of wondering what will you receive at night every day keeps the interest in the holiday ongoing for eight nights.
For Jews, Hanukkah is the most special holiday to be held during the December holiday season. Many Jewish holidays focus on repentance, or appreciating the fortunes of the Earth. It’s holiday of celebration, singing, laughing, games and presents could not fall any better on the calendar.
This year, Hanukkah will begin right when Christmas starts. So, this year on Christmas day instead of getting Chinese food and watching movies, Jewish families will be celebrating the Festival of Lights.