Jewish communities worldwide will mark the beginning of Hanukkah, the ‘Festival of Lights’ at sunset tonight, Tuesday 20 December 2011.
Hanukkah is an eight-day long holiday that commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greek army in 165BC.
In 168BC Syrian-Greek soldiers seized the Jewish Temple and dedicated it to the worship of Zeus. In 167BC Antiochus, the Syrian-Greek emperor, made the observance of Judaism a capital offence, ordering all Jews to worship Greek gods instead.
The local Jews revolted, and eventually regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165BC. Jewish troops attempted to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. Although they only had enough oil for one day, they lit the menorah and it burned for a full eight days.
Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday in Jewish law compared to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). As Hanukkah usually falls in late November or December, it has become more popular recently because of its proximity to Christmas.
According to blogs posted in chron.com and The Boston Globe, Jewish families (usually with younger children) often find themselves struggling to strike a balance between joining in the Christmas spirit and remaining true to their Jewish heritage.
The Christmas tradition of gift-giving has apparently been creeping into Hanukkah festivities, where families gather each night to light a candle on the ‘hanukkiyah’, a special eight-armed menorah (candelabra). On the first night of Hanukkah, one candle is lit, then two on the second and so on until all eight candles are alight. In celebration of the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as ‘latkes’ and ‘sufganiyot’ during the holiday.
Ultimately, each family can choose to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas and the festive season as suits them best. So no matter what you’re celebrating this festive season, it seems to us that enjoying the company of friends and family is the common thread running through December 2011. A worthy cause, if ever there was one.