Hanukkah has been largely depoliticized, first through the invention of the feel-good myth of the oil that lasted for eight days, and now via our consumerist interpretation of Hanukkah as Christmas’ Jewish cousin. But Hanukkah is actually the celebration of an uprising. It honors the Maccabees, the faction that recaptured the Temple in 165 BCE and expelled the Selucid Empire from Judea. Therefore this holiday is a symbol of indigenous liberation, and is best observed in solidarity with all peoples resisting occupation. Happy Hanukkah!
We enter the month of Kislev, which means Chanukah (also spelled as Chanukkah, Hanukkah, Hanukah, חנוכה and like ten other ways) is right around the corner!
Chanukah is the eight-day Festival of Lights. It celebrates miracles twofold.
The first: During the time of the story of Chanukah, the Holy-Land was ruled over by the Seleucids, who sought to suppress the people of Israel in their religion. A small band of faithful Jews led by the family of the Maccabees defeated the much larger Seleucid army, and reclaimed the Holy Temple.
The second: To rededicate the Temple, the Maccabees sought to re-light the menorah (a seven branched candelabra) but they found there was only enough oil to burn for one night, and it would take eight days to purify more oil. Miraculously, the oil burnt for the entire eight days, so that more oil could be purified.
“Chanukah” means dedication, referring to the rededication of the Temple after desecration by the Hellenistic influences. Among the customs of celebration, which include eating foods fried in oil, and playing a top called a dreidel, is lighting on each night an additional candle on a special nine branched menorah.
Chanukah is to be celebrated publicly. All around the world, menorahs are often placed in windows so that passersby are too reminded of the miracles.
So we will celebrate Chanukah publicly here, on Tumblr.
Starting December 24th, at sundown, each night of Chanukah, I will post a picture of my Menorah, in the proper stage of lighting. I invite each of you to reblog the post, adding a picture of your Menorah for everyone to see! Or, if you want, you can just post your Menorah separately, tag it #chanukahproject or #istodayajewishholiday if you want me to see, and I’ll reblog lots of them!
So the basic ancient story is that the greeks were persecuting the Hebrew people and trying to prevent them from practicing their religion. The Maccabee (hammer) family formed an army to revolt against the oppressors and won against all odds, taking back the Second Temple and rededicating it.
In order to have a reason to celebrate other than a war victory, we also talk about this miracle story that when they were rededicating the temple, they only had enough oil to burn in the menorah (which is a candelabra thingy and is spelled מנורת i think) for ONE NIGHT but by a MIRACLE FROM GOD (omg) it burned for EIGHT NIGHTS
BONUS FACT: menorah (מנורת) is a 7-branched oil lamp (3 on each side, 1 in the middle). the hanukkah menorah, or hanukkiah (חֲנֻכִּיָּה , pronounced “ha-noo-KEY-yah”) is the 9-branched oil lamp/candelabra with 4 on each side and 1 in the middle. Everyone calls it a menorah, I used to mind it, now I don’t care.
2. Someone asked: “why are there so many different spellings of (C )han(n)uk(k)ah? (as in, why did we never agree upon a single spelling? did it come to the English language relatively recently?)”
For reference, here’s the word in Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה
Because of the back-of-the-throat sound, some people write “ch” and some people write “h”. As for the double “k”, it’s because in classical Hebrew, the kaf “כ” is pronounced for longer than other consonants. As for the number of “n”s, I have no clue. Lately I’ve been writing “hanukkah.” It really is kind of annoying that there’s no consistency, especially when you’re trying to search for something online.
3. When is Hanukkah this year (2015)?
sundown Sunday, December 6 to sundown Monday, December 14
4. Someone asked: “are there any common Hanukkah traditions that you want to share other than the mainstream ones that everyone talks about (dreidel, gifts, latkes, lighting the menorah)?”
The reason we eat latkes (fried potato pancakes, לְבִיבוֹת in Hebrew which I’m reading as “l’vivot”, so I guess “latke” is a yiddish word, Jumblr correct me if I’m wrong) is because we eat food fried in oil to commemorate the oil in the lamp (and because whoever came up with that tradition knew nothing about cholesterol) so we eat other fried food like jelly doughnuts (סופגניות, spelled sufganiyot in English, pronounced “soof-gan-ee-YOT”). Apparently, in Israel, they eat jelly doughnuts way more often than latkes.
The other traditions you listed are pretty much all that I know about. We don’t go to synogague for services (but some go for community parties and stuff). There are special songs we sing (which I plan on posting as one of my “gifts” later in the week so stay posted lol)
5. Is it true that you get one present for each night?
Depends on the family. My parents usually do one small gift like cool socks each night except for one bigger gift on one night. The whole gift giving tradition kind of stemmed from Christmas and isn’t really historically relevant.
6. Is it true that Hanukkah isn’t an important holiday in Judaism?
Kinda. It came about very recently compared to most other Jewish holidays, only a little over 2,000 years ago, and so it’ isn’t in the Torah. Nowadays, it’s important, especially I think in America, because of the coinciding dates with Christmas. From that it’s become a bigger deal, which I like, because it’s fun to have winter holidays to see family on and get gifts and decorate and stuff.
7. How does the candle lighting work?
The candle in the middle is called a shamash (שַׁמָשׁ, pronounced “SHAHM-ash”) which means “servant” or “helper.” You light that with a match or lighter and then light the other candles with the shamash. You put the candles in the hanukkiah from right to left (I guess because Hebrew is read right to left) and then light them with the shamash from left to right- newest candle first. On the first night, you light the shamash + one candle, then let them burn all the way down. On the second night, shamash + two candles, etc. So in total you need 44.
There are two blessings you say as you light the candles, and on the first night, you say an extra one. I’m getting bored of this post and don’t feel like listing them but they’re easy to look up.
8. How do you play dreidel?
First of all, dreidel is a yiddish word, and the hebrew word is סְבִיבוֹן (pronounced “siv-VEE-vohn”). Dreidel is a totally fine word to use, I use it all the time, but I figured you all should know.
There are 4 sides to a dreidel, each with a hebrew letter on it. Outside of Israel, the letters are “נ” (nun), “ג” (gimel), “ה” (hay), and “שׁ” (shin). They stand for “נס גדול היה שם” (nes gadol haya shahm) or “A Great Miracle Happened There”. (In Israel, instead of a שׁ, it’s a פּ, which stands for “po” and means here, as opposed to there.)
The rules of the game: You can play with chocolate gelt, real money, or whatever. My family has a decades old bag of hazelnuts that we take out to play with. It’s up to you. You spin the top. If you land on נ, nothing happens. If you land on ג, you get the whole pot. If you land on ה, you get half the pot. If you land on שׁ, you put a token in (my family says two, it varies.)
aries: hourglass // catfish and the bottlemen “and i’m so impatient when you’re not mine / i just wanna catch up on all the lost times / and i’ll say i’m sorry if i sound sordid / ‘cause all i really ever want is you”
taurus: video games // lana del rey “they say that the world was built for two / only worth living if somebody is loving you / baby, now you do”
gemini: toothpaste kisses // the maccabees “lay with me, i’ll lay with you / we’ll do the things that lovers do / put the stars in our eyes / and with heart shaped bruises / and late night kisses divine”
cancer: can’t help falling in love // elvis presley “take my hand / take my whole life too / for i can’t help falling in love with you”
leo: if // red hot chilli peppers “and if i saw the sun fall down / i’d pick it up and make a crown / one that was a perfect fit for you”
virgo: better together // jack johnson “but there is not enough time / and there is no song i could sing / and there is no combination of words i could say / but i will still tell you one thing / we’re better together”
libra: thinking out loud // ed sheeran “so baby now / take me into your loving arms / kiss me under the light of a thousand stars / place your head on my beating heart”
scorpio: only love // ben howard “darling, i feel you under my body / darling, you’re with me forever and always / give me shelter or show me heart / and watch me fall apart”
sagittarius: first day of my life // bright eyes “yours is the first face that i saw / i think i was blind before i met you / now i don’t know where i am / i don’t know where i’ve been / but i know where i want to go”
capricorn: re:stacks // bon iver “this is not the sound of a new man or crispy realisation / it’s the sound of the unlocking and lift away / your love will be / safe with me”
aquarius: could it be another change // the samples “the only time i feel good sinking / is when i’m sinking fast and deep for you”
pisces: your song // elton john “i hope you don’t mind / i hope you don’t mind that i put down in words / how wonderful life is while you’re in the world”
This week’s Jewish character of the week is: Godric Gryffindor
(He taught his students swordsmanship and Hebrew prayers and spellcrafting alike, within the walls of Hogwarts. Sometimes he looked around at his legacy - of learning and of defense - and thought that the Maccabees would have been proud.)