Marketing Campaigns Manager Shira answers the question “what is Hanukkah?” and tells us the story behind why it is celebrated.
What is Hanukkah and why is it celebrated?
Hanukkah, otherwise known as the ‘Festival of Lights’, is one of the most joyous occasions in the Jewish calendar.
The festival celebrates an extraordinary event that happened in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago. It occurred after the Jews won the right to practise their religion freely and regained their independence following a successful uprising from the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebel warriors.
The battle spanned across 3 years. After the war was won by the Maccabees, they were finally able to recapture Jerusalem and overthrow the Syrian king Antiochus. Before the uprising, he was trying to force the Jewish people to worship him instead of God, which went against their religion.
The Maccabees’ triumph meant that the Jewish community was once again in control of the temple and able to worship God, and they lit an oil lamp in the temple to signify this return of control. The lamp only contained enough oil to burn for 1 day, but it miraculously burned for 8. This is why Hanukkah lasts for 8 days and why light is a key part of the festival.
When is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah falls on a different date every year, but is usually in November or December. This year the festival begins on 28 November and will, as always, runs for eight days up until 6 December.
How do we celebrate?
Each night at sundown, those celebrating Hanukkah light a multibranched candelabra called a ‘menorah’, with one more candle being lit each day of the festival until all 8 are burning on the final night. The middle candle known as the ‘shamash’ is used to light the other eight candles.
A prayer is recited during this ceremony and songs are sung before the children of the household spin the dreidel. A dreidel is a 4-sided spinning top imprinted on each side with a Hebrew letter, which reads as an abbreviation of the phrase ‘a great miracle happened there’.
It is also customary to eat fried foods to symbolise the miracle of the oil lamp; these foods include doughnuts and latkes, a potato-based fritter.
And that’s a quick introduction to Hanukkah – I hope you’ve learnt a little bit about the festival and why it’s such a special celebration.