Monday, November 26, 2012

How to Celebrate Hanukkah

Hanukkah is an eight-day festival, which is celebrated on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. This year the Hanukkah begins in the evening of Saturday, December 8, 2012, and ends in the evening of Sunday, December 16, 2012. So you have the full time to prepare celebrate this holiday.

celebrate Hanukkah

Know what you're celebrating

Hanukkah commemorates the victory of a band of Jewish warriors, the Maccabees, over the Syrian king Antiochus almost 2,500 years ago. After driving out the Syrians, the Maccabees reoccupied the Temple of Jerusalem, where they found enough oil to keep the all-important "Eternal Light" shining for only one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, hence the eight days of Hanukkah (which is derived from the Hebrew word for "rededication.")

Learn about the holiday

Many folks, Jews and non-Jews alike, have come to think of Hanukkah as "Christmas Lite"-after all, both holidays take place at the same time of year, and involve feasting, decorating, and elaborate exchanges of presents. However, Hanukkah has its own set of ancient traditions and rituals that make it as different from Christmas as well.

Get a menorah

One of the symbols most closely associated with Judaism, the menorah is a nine-branched candelabra used during the eight days of Hanukkah. On Hanukkah eve, celebrants light a "shamash" (usually the extra candle in the middle of the menorah), then use this lit candle to light the first candle on the left. This ritual continues over the next eight days until all eight candles are lit.

nine-branched candelabra of hanukkah
Play dreidel

A four-sided top used for playing games, the Dreidel is a symbol of celebrate Hanukkah. Players get an equal amount of candies, and some are placed into a "pot" in the center. Players take turns spinning the dreidel. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter which tells the players whether to put in or take out candies. The game ends when someone has all the candies, or when the candies have all been eaten.

Sing some songs

There aren't quite as many Hanukkah songs as there are Christmas carols, but you'll be surprised by their variety. Probably the most famous (at least to non-Jews) is "I Have a Little Dreidel," which is sung to accompany the dreidel game, a harmless game of chance in which kids win (or lose) candy by spinning an inscribed top.

Fry up some latkes

Practically every Jewish holiday has its traditional food: hamentaschen (triangle-shaped cookies) on Purim, matzoh (unleavened bread) on Passover, and latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil) on Hanukkah. As tasty as they are, latkes can be unhealthy to eat for eight consecutive days, so feel free to explore the rest of the Jewish cookbook (flanken, gefilte fish, etc.)

Eat foods cooked in oil

give small hanukkah gift to kidsHanukkah just wouldn't be the same without the traditional latkes and applesauce. Latkes made from shredded potatoes, onions, matzoh meal and salt) are fried in oil to crispy gold brown, then served with applesauce (and often sour cream). The frying oil reminds celebrants of the miracle of the oil. Small powdered sugar donuts, called Sufgeniot are also a popular Hanukkah treat, especially in Israel. Fried, oil-rich foods are the theme!

Exchange the gifts

Here's where Hanukkah is very different from Christmas: kids usually don't receive one big "Hanukkah gift," but eight small gifts bestowed over the course of the holiday. Because eight big gifts in a row are an expensive proposition, Hanukkah gifts are usually small, but fun-think toy soldiers, to commemorate the Maccabees, or even a plain old Slinky.

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