Anniversaries & holidays

Hanukkah – Festival of Lights

Na zdjeciu widać świecznik chanukowy, w którym zapalonych jest już 8 świec
fot. Flickr/skpy cc by sa 2.0

Hanukkah (hebr. dedication), nowadays known as Hag ha-Urim (Hebr. Festival of Lights), which is observed for eight days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev, according to the Hebrew calendar, and ending on the 2nd day of Tewet. In the Gregorian calendar, the feast is movable and usually takes place in December. In 2023, Hanukkah begins on the evening of 7 December and ends on the evening of 15 December.

Hanukkah is a typically historical holiday and does not come directly from the Torah. Therefore, the days of the holiday are also regular working days. The most important aspect of the festival is lighting one candle on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The lights are kindled on a characteristic nine-branched candelabrum called the Hanukkah or the Hanukkah Menorah. The purpose of lighting the lights each night is to spread the news of the Hanukkah miracle.

The miracle is said to have happened in ancient Judea in the 2nd century BC during a religious war between Jewish rebels - the Maccabees - and the army of the Syrian King Antiochus IV, who tried to Hellenize the occupied Jewish territory by force. When the Maccabees recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by the occupants, they renewed the ritual of kindling the Menorah.

They found only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day, but, miraculously, the oil burned on for eight days. Another miracle mentioned in additional holiday prayers is that a small group of Jewish rebels defeated the mighty and well-armed Syrian army.

Hanukkah, like Christmas, is a joyful family holiday. On each of the eight nights the whole family gathers around the nine-branched candelabrum, placed in a window, so its light is visible from outside. Depending on custom, all members of the family light one candelabrum, or each person has their own candle. Traditionally, oil lamps are used, recalling the legend of the miracle. Specific blessings and songs accompany the kindling of the lights, special dishes fried in oil (doughnuts and potato pancakes, for instance) are served to commemorate the miracle, and children receive presents. The adults sit down to play cards and the children play dreidel, where gelt - chocolate coins or other sweets - serve as the money.

The dreidel, the holiday spinning-top, conveys the main theme of the celebration: commemorating the miracle. The rules are very simple. Each of its four sides is printed with a Hebrew letter: nun, gimel, hey, and shin. Each letter symbolizes a victory or loss for the player, but at the same time each letter is also the first letter of a word. The player spins the dreidel and wins or loses sweets while at the same time making the sentence "Nes Gadol Haya Po" (A great miracle happened here).