Hanukkah is a Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees successfully rebelled against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The Temple was purified and the wicks of the Menorah miraculously burned for eight days even though there was only enough oil to burn for one day.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days starting on the 25th day of Kislev – late November to late December. It is observed by lighting candles on a Menorah. One candle is above or below the rest and is used to light the rest – this candle is called the shamash. Each night one additional candle is lit by the shamash (servant candle) until all 8 candles are lit together on the final night of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah festivities include playing the dreidel and eating oil based foods – latkes and sufganivot (filled doughnuts). There are now public Menorah lightings in open public places in many countries.
Hanukkah Traditions Around the World:
Washington D.C., USA:
Hanukkah is celebrated widely across America. Since 1979 a giant 9m tall Menorah has been raised on the White House grounds for the 8 days and nights of Hanukkah. The ceremony of the lighting is marked with speeches, music and activities for children. The lighting of the first candle takes place at 4pm no matter what the weather is doing and each candle is lit at 4pm on the coming days.
Afghan Jews, unable to light a Menorah, fill small plates with oil and set them beside each other symbolic of the oil the Maccabees used to light the temple in Egypt.
Historically, Algerians hang their Menorahs on the wall near their doorways, placed on the same side as the Mezuzah. The Mezuzah is a tiny scroll tuck to the inside of the front door.
In Australia Hanukkah is about togetherness with family. They spend the night at home to light the candles together which is followed by a day of celebration with their community.
Canadians have been celebrating Hanukkah since 1760 when the first Jews were allowed to immigrate. Hanukkah is celebrated as more of a secular tradition where gifts are exchanged and eating foods traditionally from the country of their heritage. It is a melting pot of traditions based on practices from immigrants from all over the world.
A community in Santa Marta eats fired plantains called patacones for Hanukkah.
Squares in the centre of cities throughout the UK light up every year with giant Menorahs. The lighting is an annual event. Thousands attend the event.
Jews in Alsace commonly used double decker Hanukkah Menorahs with space for 16 lights instead of 8. The second set of lights was used so both father and son could light a candle together on the Menorah.
In Budapest Hanukkah is a large celebration and each year the city hosts Quater6Quarter7 festival – named after the districts in the historic Jewish quarter. For 8 nights, locals celebrate with flash mobs, concerts, theatre performances and there are special Hanukkah menus in local restaurants.
Indian Jews d not light wax candles for Hanukkah. They dip wicks in coconut oil and light them and they eat barfi sweets.
Jews go to Synagogues for Hanukkah, attending religious services and read from prayer books.
On all 8 nights of Hanukkah the streets of Jerusalem are aglow. People display their family’s Menorah for the neighborhood to see. Many homes will have cutouts in the wall of their home designed for the Menorah. They eat latkes and sufganiyot – both are fried in oil to symbolise oil used by ancient Jews to light the temple.
In Rome there is a massive Menorah in the Piazza Barberini. The Menorah is 20 feet tall. Italian Jews will eat precipizi – small fired dough balls sweetened with warm honey.
Jews will eat citrus flavoured doughnuts – sfeni – made with orange zest and juice. Oranges are associated with Hanukkah because Jaffa oranges come into season during late fall and early winter.
Menorahs are lit across Poland and Eastern Europe to symbolise a celebration they once had to hide celebrating. Poland’s President joins in the celebration symbolizing peace now exists between Jews and the government.
The largest Russian Menorah is in Moscow in Revolution Square. Thousands usually gather each year to watch the flames light and participate in the ceremony. There will be a Hanukkah concert where a choir sings and performs traditional Jewish songs.
In Istanbul Jews sing a unique song called Ocho Candelas. It was written in honour of the Menorah’s 8 candles. Turkish Jews eat burmelos – fritters similar to latkes.
In Yemen and other North African countries the 7th night of Hanukkah is reserved for celebrating women inspired by heroines of the Torah. There is specific reference to Hannah who sacrificed 7 sons to protect Judaism against Greek pressure to convert.
8 Hanukkah Facts:
Latkes are made from potatoes – before there were potatoes in Europe in the 16th century Jews used to make a cheese pancake.
Hanukkah is a minor Jewish festival but became bigger in society as Christmas became more commercialised.
In 1951 the Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, on his only visit to America gave the President, Harry Truman, a Menorah as a gift.
There are at least 44 candles in each box of Hanukkah candles – this is what you need to light the Hanukkiyah every night.
Israelis consume 24 million sufganiyot (doughnuts) during the 8 day holiday.
Allegedly, the Dreidel was used as a disguise. Greek soldiers raided students studying the Torah when it was forbidden to do so they brought out Dreidels and pretended they were gambling.
The Menorah in the Holy Temple was solid gold. You can see its replica outside the Aish ha Torah building in Jerusalem – worth about $3 million depending on the price of gold.
Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman spent Hanukkah, 1993, in space. He wished Jews on Earth a happy Hanukkah via live video.
edited by Rabbi Anna Posner