Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hanukkah for dummies

Okay, don't get upset with my title. I was told by a friend that Hanukkah was on the same day as Thanksgiving this year.
I've blogged about Thanksgiving when I did Canadian Thanksgiving earlier. I don't think there's a lot of difference.
So I thought, let's talk about Hanukkah. Now, I know very little about Hanukkah, actually I know nothing. So this is a learning experience for me. I immediately went to Wikipedia and then checked a few other resources. If my information is inaccurate, or you can add more information, please let us know.

 Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication and is an eight day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Hanukkah falls on a different day - usually sometime between late November and late December. Because many Jews live in predominately Christian societies, over time Hanukkah has become much more festive and Christmas-like. Jewish children receive gifts for Hanukkah - often one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Many parents hope that by making Hanukkah extra special their children won't feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them.

The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukkah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical Menorah consists of eight branches with an additional raised branch. The extra light is called a shamash and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for practical use, as using the Hanukkah lights themselves for the purposes of other than publicizing and meditating on the Hanukkah is forbidden. The name reminds us that this holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in165 B.C.E.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back for fear of reprisals. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.
Jewish resistance began in the village of Modin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered Jewish villagers and told them to bow down to the idol. Then eat the flesh of a pig - both practices that are forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a High Priest, to acquiesce to their demands, but Mattathias refused. When another villager stepped forward and offered to cooperate on Mattathias' behalf, the High Priest became outraged. He drew his sword and killed the villager, then turned on the Greek officer and killed him too. His five sons and other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them.
Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews wishing to fight against the Greeks joined them.  Eventually they succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans.
Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing swine. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple menorah for eight days. But to their dismay they discovered that there was only one day's worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.
In a rare alignment of calendars, Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah both fall on Nov. 28 this year. And Americans planning to celebrate this double holiday have dubbed it Thanksgivukkah. At first glance, the festivals might seem completely different. One is dreidels. One is pumpkins. One is kosher. One is pigskins.
But here are five things the holidays have in common. Both are:
- a great excuse to stuff yourself silly.
- rooted in religion.
- started by groups who found refuge in America.
- all about being thankful.
- a reason to go home.
If you have anything to add to this, please do. I'm very interested in learning more about this holiday.





  1. Love the lines - One is kosher One is pigskin.
    simple. Elegant and exact.

  2. Great overview. I'm married to a Jewish Man and love the traditions.

  3. Love to learn about the origins of other traditions. Thanks for posting this enlightening piece. I think this planet would be a much better place if we all understood where these traditions are coming from.

    1. Thanks Vijay. I did the post to inform myself because I enjoy learning about other customs and hoped that others might enjoy learning about this celebration. And I agree about more people having a better understanding of many cultures and traditions.

  4. Lovely post! I know many wonderful Jewish people, and I would never try to change their beliefs.

    1. I would never try and change anyone's beliefs. Whatever they might be, they are important to that person.
      Glad you liked the post.

  5. I enjoy your posts. You had a lot of extra information that I didn't know. Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah!

    1. Thanks Melissa. I'm glad you found it informational.
      Happy Hanukkah!