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Dec 09

Hanukkah Traditions

HW0_145011Hanukkah, of the Festival of Lights, is the Jewish celebration of their victory over the Syrians in 165 BCE.  In the story, the Jewish people are lead by the Hasmonean family in their quest to remove the Syrians from Israel and in restoring the Temple.  After the Temple was restored, the priests went to light the Temple menorah.  However, they could only find one jug of oil, which would be enough for one day.  Hanukkah, however, lasts for eight days.  Miraculously, the oil lasted for all eight days.

The lighting of the menorah is the most famous tradition of the holiday.  This nine-branched candelabra is lit starting on the 25th day of Kislev, which is calculated using the Hebrew calendar.  It occurs anywhere from late November to late December.  On the first night, only one candle is lit.  On the second, two candles are lit.  On the final day, all eight candles are lit in recognition of the eight miraculous days in the Temple.  Most modern menorahs have a ninth candle, called the shamash.  This “helper” candle is used to light all of the others.

For young children, one of the best Hanukkah traditions is playing with a dreidel.  This little spinning top keeps them occupied for quite some time, especially if they know how to play game associated with the dreidel. 

Another Hanukkah tradition involves the table settings.  Many who celebrate Hanukkah will set one extra place setting on the table.  This extra plate is for any hungry stranger who wanders in to dinner.  While most people won’t have random strangers wandering into their homes during the holidays, this tradition emphases the Jewish focus on sharing and giving to those in need.  One way some families keep the spirit of this tradition alive is by volunteering at a shelter or by making a donation to a local food bank.

Cooking traditional Hanukkah foods like latkes and donuts, is another great activity families can do together.  Children love helping make batter, cut out shapes, and decorating cookies with icing and sprinkles.

Don’t forget decorations.  While Hanukkah doesn’t feature a huge tree like Christmas, you can still find plenty of things to decorate your home with.  Beautiful flowers, homemade candles, and Hanukkah cards from years past can add a great air of festivity about your home.

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