As the families around the world gather to celebrate the festival of lights in whose origin lays a miracle, here are the top 10 facts about Hanukkah which you must know:
1. Hanukkah commemorates the 165 B.C., rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem following the triumph of a small group of Jewish rebels, known as the Maccabees, against their oppressors the Greek-Syrians, who had defiled the temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.In order to rededicate the temple, the Maccabees had to light a menorah that would burn within the temple at all times.
The Maccabees found enough consecrated oil inside the temple to light its eternal flame for a single day, but miraculously the lamp burned for eight days.
2. It actually falls on the same day every year – In the Hebrew Calendar. According to the Hebrew calendar, the festival of lights, Hanukkah falls on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. But because the Hebrew calendar is not in tandem with the Gregorian calendar, the one that we follow, it can fall anywhere from late November to late December.
3. Cheese is a Lesser-Known Hanukkah culinary tradition. The story behind cheese being a traditional Hanukkah food, albeit a lesser known one is slightly more macabre: According to the story of Hanukkah told in the Book of Judith, a beautiful Jewish widow named Judith gained the trust of the enemy Assyrian general, Holofernes, and supplied him with cheese and wine until he passed out drunk.
She then beheaded him while he slept and brought his head back to the Jewish camp, emboldening the Jewish army and causing the Assyrians to flee, saving the chosen land of Israel.
4. The Story of Hanukkah is mentioned in the Catholic Bible, and not the Hebrew one. The story of Hanukkah, which took place in 165 BC, is the only Jewish holiday that isn’t included in the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible. There are a couple theories as to why the first-century rabbis who assembled the canonical collection left it out, including its relative regency and a desire to not ruffle any feathers with the Romans.
So oddly enough, the story is in the Catholic Bible, but not the Hebrew one.
5. The Game of Dreidel was inspired by a British Game. The dreidel — a four-sided spinning top — has different Hebrew letters on each side namely; nun, gimel, hay and shin which are the initials for “A great miracle happened there,” referring to the oil burning for eight days.
The game of dreidel is played by spinning a top with a letter on each of its four sides. All players start with the same amount of money, but lose it or win more based on which letter they land on. It’s almost identical to a German game played around Christmas-time, which was inspired by a British top called a teetotum. .
6. The most popular way to prepare Hanukkah dishes is to fry them in oil — an homage to the miracle that inspired the annual celebration. The holiday’s culinary mainstays are potato pancakes which also known as latkas are served with apple sauce and sour cream, and jelly doughnuts known as sufganiyot.
The regional differences have introduced a variety of deliciously fried foods: Jews in Greece eat deep-fried dough soaked in honey, known as loukoumades; Russian revelers cook buckwheat flapjacks; and in Spain the observant fry up fritters called bunuelos in schmaltz (goose fat).
7. Traditionally, Jews celebrated the festival of lights by giving their kids and relatives gelt (money) rather than wrapped gifts. The gift of small Jewish coins first emerged as a Hanukkah tradition during the Middle Ages, when gelt, a Yiddish word for money, was given to teachers. The practice gradually extended to children as well, who were expected to donate some of it to charity. Gelt also became the reward for winning dreidel games eventually.
In 1958 Israel’s national bank began minting commemorative coins to use as gelt, highlighting a different regional Jewish community each year. Some gelt is also distributed in the form of chocolate.
8. Lighting a special, nine-branched candelabrum is the main ritual on Hanukkah. Most people — including Jews — incorrectly refer to this as a menorah, when in fact the correct name for the candleholder is Hanukkiah or Hanukkah menorah. A menorah, which has only seven candleholders, was the lamp used in the ancient holy temple in Jerusalem — now a symbol of Judaism and an emblem of Israel.
A Hanukkiah, however, has nine candlesticks, one for each night of Hanukkah and an extra one to light the others. According to strict Jewish law, a Hanukkiah should have eight candleholders of the same height and a ninth branch that is set higher than the rest. Olive oil was traditionally used to light the Hanukkiah which was later replaced by candles.
9. Most of the people might not know but there are very specific rules about lighting a menorah; luckily most of them rely on simply knowing your left from your right. The menorah has nine branches, one for each night of the Festival of Lights, plus a shamash, meaning helper or attendant, which is lit first and then used to light the other candles. The shamash always sits a bit higher or lower than the rest of the candles so as to not get confused with the others.
The candles are placed on the menorah from right to left, the same direction in which one reads Hebrew. However, when lighting the menorah you move in the opposite direction, using the shamash to the light the candles from left to right. Each night a new candle is added to the menorah, plus a shamash, and burned all the way through. Exactly , 44 candles are used in total for the same.
10. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication and the holiday is colloquially called the Festival of Lights. But you’ve probably seen the word spelled a variety of ways, from Hanukkah to Hannuka to Chanukah .There isn’t one right way to spell Hanukkah. The blame may be put on transliteration. It was originally written in Hebrew so the variations arose when the word had to be written in English. Lacking exact English equivalents to the Hebrew sounds led to the many spelling variations we see today: Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, Hannukah, Chanukkah.
It’s that time of the year guys when you can sing one of the many immortal songs of Phoebe Buffay alias Regina Phalange ( and later rechristened as Princess Consuela Bananahammock), “Monica, Monica Happy Hanukkah” or you can also go for Adam Sandler’s “Channukah Song” and this time, update it in your style.
For more such information such as the top 10 facts about Hanukkah we just mentioned here, we’d recommend going to the old synagogues of this city. Why not try something new for a change?