As winter approaches and the days get shorter, the winter holiday season approaches and people across the world celebrate a myriad of holidays to brighten the colder, darker days of this season. One of those holidays is Hannukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
Hannukah is an eight-day festival that commemorates the victory of a small Jewish army (called the Maccabees) against the mighty Greeks in the second century BCE. After the fighting, the Maccabees returned to their holy Temple to light the menorah, a type of candelabrum used in the Temple. The menorah used olive oil to keep the candle wicks alight, and there was only enough left to light the menorah for one day. The miracle of Hannukah is that this small amount of oil lasted eight days, keeping the menorah lit until new oil could be brought back to the Temple.
Hannukah happens in the month of Kislev in the Jewish lunar calendar, which means that the date is not the same each year on the standard solar calendar. This year, Hannukah starts after sundown on December 10th, and continues until sundown on the 18th.
Three ways to celebrate Hannukah (even if you’re not Jewish!)
- Light candles: Most Jewish households will light candles using a special menorah called a hannukiah. There are places for nine candles – eight of these represent the eight nights that the oil miraculously lasted, and the ninth candle in the middle is the ‘helper’ candle (shamash) which is used to light all the others. Families start with one candle and the shamash, and then add a candle every day as the festival continues. The candle holder is usually placed in a window so that passerbys can see it and enjoy its light.
Even if you don’t have a menorah at home, lighting a candle in a window is a lovely way to have an unspoken conversation with your community – a friendly hello flickering in the night! If you are not allowed to light a candle (for example, if you are in student accommodation or your rental contract doesn’t allow it), you can download and print a paper menorah here. Colour in the shamash (middle candle) and the first candle on the first night, then add a candle every night until it is all filled in.
- Eat fried food: No, really! Hannukah celebrates the miracle of oil, and so many Jewish households fill their plates with delicious fried food. The two most famous of these are latkes, a fried potato pancake, and sufganiyot, or jam donuts!
Here is a recipe for latkes (easily made vegan by using your favourite egg replacer!). As always, when working with hot oil, be careful that you do not burn yourself.
If you are feeling extra ambitious and want to DIY your jam donuts (although supermarket jam donuts are absolutely acceptable!), here is a great recipe for sufaniyot here.
- Play dreidel: a dreidel is a spinning top with four sides, where each side shows a different letter. The letters are an acronym for nes gadol haya sham, or ‘a great miracle happened there’. But they are also used to represent what action you need to take when playing the game of dreidel! You can find the rules for playing dreidel here.
If you’re a crafty, arty person, here’s a way to make an origami dreidel at home (and if you aren’t a crafty, arty person, here’s a super quick dreidel you can make at home from recycled materials!).
Be warned: dreidel games can get pretty competitive!
Happy Hannukah, everyone!