Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, commemorates the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem that had been defiled after the Maccabean Revolt. While there are different versions to this biblical story, Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of triumph against overwhelming odds.
The most popular part of the miracle, and often the most familiar, is the story of how one night’s worth of oil lasted for eight days. This element has inspired the oil cooked foods eaten during the holiday as well as the lighting of the candles of the Menorah.
This year, Hanukkah begins on the evening of Tues., Dec. 12, and ends on the evening of Wed., Dec. 20.
Popular traditions of the holiday include eating latkes, the giving of gelt or chocolate coins wrapped in gold and silver, playing dreidel, exchanging gifts and lighting the Menorah.
Goods fried in oil such as latkes (fried potato pancakes) and donuts are likely to make the dinner table. The giving of chocolate gelt is thought to have evolved from an 18th century Eastern European Hanukkah tradition in which rabbis went from village to village teaching Hebrew school lessons. In exchange, villages would give the rabbis an edible gift.
Another Hanukkah tradition is playing dreidel, a spinning top game in which the top has a Hebrew letter on each of its four sides. While the game dates back to the 16th century, the letters are now said to stand for the Hebrew sentence, “a great miracle happened there.”
Hanukah celebrations also include the exchanging of gifts and it is customary to give one gift for each night of Hanukkah.