Let it Glow

Sophia Magnano and Ben Burman

While there is no Christmas tree to decorate, Hanukkah, the festival of lights, lasts for eight nights, involves yummy food and fun traditions. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem. It is not a crucial holiday in Judaism but has increasingly become more well-known since the 1920s because of Christmas competition. Hanukkah has become the Jewish Christmas with the integration of non-traditional traditions such as presents, decorations, and of course, the honored Hanukkah Harry. 


Hanukkah’s story began when the 168 BCE Syrian King, Antiochus Epiphanes, and his army invaded Jerusalem. They destroyed the Temple, the holiest place for Jews at the time, forced the Jews to convert. However, Judah Maccabee and his brothers were brave enough to stand up to Antiochus and his army by forming an army of their own. Although the Maccabees were greatly outnumbered, they defeated the Syrians and took back their sovereignty. When the Jews reentered the Temple for the first time since the Syrians evaded, it was in ruins and there was no oil left to light the Menorah. The Jews worked together to restore their holy place. As they worked, they found a very small container of oil and they knew the oil would only last them one night. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight nights. Therefore, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights, and the Menorah candles are lit each night. 


Like many Jewish holidays, the Hanukah traditions focus on the historical events the holiday commemorates. Not surprisingly, oil is celebrated, and the main foods are latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts). Latkes are a staple that can be paired with almost anything, sweet or sour. Livy Winnard ‘23 said her favorite pairing of food is “latkes with apple sauce and sour cream.”  


The dreidel game is another Hannukah tradition. The objective of the game is to win the most Hanukkah gelt, or chocolate-shaped coins, wrapped in a gold foil. There are four Hebrew letters that the dreidel can land on; נ (nun), the player gets nothing, ה (hey) the player gets half, ג (gimel), the player gets all the coins, and ש‎ (shin), the player must put one-third of their coins in the pot. There are several explanations as to why dreidel is played on Hanukkah. The most common of the explanations is the legend that Jewish children were forbidden from studying the Torah under Syrian rule but would defy these rules by learning through spinning tops or dreidels that would appear to just be games. The Hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, Hey, and Shin form the acronym for the Hebrew saying Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, which can be translated to “a great miracle happened there.”


While the actual festival of Hanukkah may not be as significant as other Jewish holidays, food, family, and fun is central to the holiday and, therefore, make it meaningful. Winnard said that “Hannukah is not about religious observance [for her and her family], but instead about tradition, appreciation, and quality time.” For example, Winnard added that she enjoys “spending time with her family and going on walks with them.” Winnard makes it evident that traditions do not need to be based on the religious importance of Hannukah, but rather unique family traditions – and of course some delicious fried foods.