Written by Sara Lilkas, Marketing Intern
One of my favorite holidays to celebrate growing up was Hanukkah. It may be because I am obsessed with potato latkes or the ridiculous amount of chocolate gelt I would get from my grandmother, but the eight night Festival of Lights remains one of my favorite holidays. Now I will get to the potato latkes later, but first let me tell you what Hanukkah is all about.
This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 24th, 2016. Hanukkah is an eight day celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt. During the rededication there was only enough oil to light the menorah for a single day, the oil burned for eight days, which is why a candle is lit for every night of Hanukkah until all eight days are represented (as well as the shamash which is used to light the candles each night.)
Even though Hanukkah is a minor holiday in the Jewish religion it is widely celebrated in the United States and in Jewish communities around the world. Unlike some holidays there is no need to take off from work or to refrain from various activities. The Hanukkah celebration begins at sundown with the lighting of the candles in the menorah, with an additional candle being light for each night of the holiday. During the eight nights of Hanukkah some families exchange small gifts and play dreidel.
The dreidel is a four sided top with a different Hebrew letter on each side. The letters stand for nes gadol hayah sham, a great miracle happened here. Even though the dreidel game may appear to be only a fun game (that has an awesome song that goes with it), it is actually a tribute to the Jewish people who had to study the Torah in private as a result of a series of laws making it illegal in the 2nd Century BC. When patrolmen came by they would hide their Torah’s and spin tops to give the appearance that they were only gambling or playing a game and not participating in an illegal activity.
The dreidel game is not only a lot of fun, but is also very easy to play. To play the dreidel game, each player starts with 10 or 15 coins (even though most people now play with chocolate gelt or another similar candy item and who doesn’t love winning candy?), depending on which symbol the dreidel lands on, you will lose or win more coins or candy. The game is played in rounds and at the beginning of each round each player puts a coin or piece of candy into the pot. Every time the pot is empty all players put in one coin or piece of candy. On your turn, you spin the dreidel and follow the instructions associated with each symbol. The symbols mean:
- Nun- nisht, nothing- nothing happens and it is the next person’s turn
- Gimel-gantz, “all” – the player takes the entire pot
- Hey-halb, “half”- the player takes half the pot
- Shin-shtel, “put in”- the player puts one coin in the pot
If you have no game pieces left you can either ask your fellow players for a loan or you are out of the game. When one player has won everything in the pot, the round is over. The number of rounds can vary depending on how many people are playing or family traditions, it is up to you to decide! The dreidel game can have slightly different rules depending on how they were handed down throughout the years, so it’s a good idea to establish the rules and number of rounds you will be playing with before you begin.
As with many Jewish holidays, the food served has significant meaning, and it also happens to be delicious. Since Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days in the menorah oily foods are made to represent the miracle. The two most popular food items prepared for Hanukkah are potato latkes and Sufganiot, which are deep fried doughnuts. The latkes are usually topped with applesauce or sour cream. Personally I think applesauce is the only option you need, but you can put whatever you like on your potato latkes.
There is not always a large holiday meal during the eight nights of Hanukkah, but many families make an effort to spend time together. Whether it’s playing dreidel, or singing Hanukkah songs the emphasis, is about celebrating together.
Check out our Pinterest Board for Hanukkah recipes and crafts! Have a Happy Hanukkah!