Posted: Dec 07, 2012 8:00 AM
Once considered a minor Jewish holiday, celebrating Hanukkah is now culturally popular because of its proximity to Christmas. The low-key ritual of candle lighting lends soft beauty to the holiday season for eight nights between late November and late December.

History of Hanukkah

Hanukkah translates to "dedication" and honors religious conviction. In 165 BCE, after three years of struggling for religious freedom, five sons of a Jewish priest liberated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from Syrian Greeks and experienced the miracle of a 1-day supply of oil lighting their lamps for eight nights.

Spiritual significance

Hanukkah honors freedom from religious oppression. It is not considered a Sabbath-like holiday, so celebrating Hanukkah does not require any sort of work restrictions found during more significant Jewish holidays.

Hanukkah symbols

Popular Hanukkah symbols of the menorah, the dreidel and gelt are used during celebrations and as decorative symbols on cards, gift wrap and holiday displays.Symbols of Hanukkah

  • Eight candles of the menorah signify the eight nights the lamps were lit with the miracle oil. The ninth candle is placed above or below the symbolic eight as a source of light. On the first night of the Jewish holiday one candle is lit, with an additional candle lit each night during the Hanukkah celebration.
  • The dreidel is a 4-sided spinning top inscribed with Hebrew symbols. Each player begins the game with a certain amount of candy or money and puts in or takes out of the pot based on the symbol spun each turn.
  • Hanukkah gelt (money) was traditionally distributed to children each night while celebrating Hanukkah. Many families have replaced gelt with gifts of various sizes, though money is still used in both its literal form and in the figurative form of chocolate coins.

Celebrating Hanukkah

A blessing of the candles accompanies the lighting of the menorah, three blessings on the first day of Hanukkah and two on each of the remaining evenings. Foods fried in oil are part of Hanukkah celebrations, especially potato pancakes called latkes. The oil used to fry latkes is a reminder of the miracle of oil that began the holiday.

Though not a major Jewish holiday, the Festival of Lights honors religious freedom with the beauty of candlelight and the light-hearted game of spinning the dreidel and brings families together for eight nights of celebration.

More on holiday traditions

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Kids and Thanksgiving traditions
Multicultural celebrations in December