Know Your Neighbour: Hanukkah

Know Your Neighbour: Hanukkah

As a part of our Know Your Neighbour series, we are exploring Hanukkah this week!

What is Hanukkah?

Often referred to as the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah is based on the ‘miracle of the oil’, remembering the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 164BC. It is a time of celebration that takes place in either November or December each year.  

When is Hanukkah?

Lasting for eight nights and days, this year Hanukkah is taking place between 6th December and 14th December.

Why is Hanukah celebrated?

Chanukah is not mentioned in the Bible but is based on traditions from extra-biblical stories and the modern well-known stories are compiled from Jewish midrashim (stories), the Book of Maccabees. According to this tradition, in 164BC, a group of Jews known as the ‘Maccabees’ recaptured Jerusalem from the Greeks.

To rededicate the Temple after Greek occupation, the Jews needed to light the Menorah. However, when they got to the Temple they only had enough uncontaminated oil to light the Menorah (the seven branched candelabrum) for one night. Despite this, the candles miraculously stayed lit for eight days, which was enough time for them to create more oil to burn.

In order to celebrate this, the religious authorities instituted the festival of Hanukah. It is because the oil burnt for eight days that the festival today lasts for eight days. 

"Hanukkah" derives from a Hebrew verb meaning "to dedicate", as the Maccabees rededicated the Temple for Jewish worship.

How is Hanukah celebrated?

The main tradition surrounding Hanukah is the lighting of the Menorah (7 branched) or, more commonly, the Chanukiah (9 branched) each night. The lighting of this candle is a holy ceremony which includes blessings and singing. The lighting needs to take place in public in order to fulfil the mitzvah (commandment). The reason for this is to share the festival and spread light into the world. Often this means that families will light their candles in the window of their home. Elliot, who works for one of our partners, the Council of Christians and Jews has written a blog about that very subject here.  

These Hannukah candles cannot be used for any other purpose because they are holy. The tradition is to light one of the candles each night of Hanukkah until the candles are all lit on the last night. 

One of the other great traditions of Hanukah is to eat fried food together because of significance of the oil! This means eating latkes which are fried potato pancakes and sufganiot which are jam filled doughnuts. 

The BBC Food website has some pretty tasty looking examples!

There's also the tradition of playing with dreidels (yiddish) which are 4-sided spinning tops inscribed on each side with the hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hey and shin/pey representing the words "nes gadol haya sham/poh" which means "a great miracle happened there/here (depending on in the diaspora or in Israel). These are often used to play a little "gambling" game where kids try to win chocolate coins from one another and depending on the letter your spin lands on, you need to put a coin in the pot in the middle, win some/all of the pot, or do nothing.

And, if you want a little Hanukkah fun, take a look at this parody video! 



Or maybe you're more of a Taylor Swift fan? 


Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones

Date: 03 December 2015