Celebrating Chanukah

Celebrating Chanukah


There are so many reasons that we love the last few months of the year. From Divali, Fireworks Night and Christmas, there's so much to celebrate! This year, we're also just happy that 2020 is nearly over...

Another beautiful celebration that happens at the end of the year is the Jewish celebration of Chanukah or the Festival of Lights.

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When is Chanukah?

The dates of the eight-day festival of Chanukah are calculated using the Hebrew calendar which is based on lunar cycles and the seasons, and was originally decided by observations of a crescent moon.

Chanukah is celebrated for eight days and eight nights and it starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev - generally, this falls in late November or early December.

In 2020, Chanukah begins on Thursday the 10th December and finishes on Friday the 18th December.

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The Story of HChanukah

Chanukah celebrates the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire.

The Story of Chanukah stems from a truly historical event that occurred in 165 BCE in Jerusalem. At that time, the Seleucid Empire was at its height - in the beginning, the Empire endeavoured to merge eastern and western culture and displayed religious and cultural tolerance - but this changed as the Empire expanded. In Jerusalem, temples were destroyed and lives ruined by Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV and his Greco-Syrian troops. After the destruction of the Second Temple, a Jewish priest, Mattathias, along with his sons rebelled and retook Jerusalem and the temple - Emperor Antiochus IV and his armies were defeated.

When they retook the temple, Mattathias and the Maccabean Revolt lit the holy lamp (the menorah). There was only enough oil for the lamp to last for the first night but a great miracle happened - the lamp burned for eight days. We call this the miracle of the oil.

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Chanukah Today

Chanukah is one of the smaller Jewish holidays in the Jewish calendar when compared to Rosh Hashonah, Yom Kippur, Purim and Passover. It has become a popular holiday in larger culture with its proximity to Christmas and more secular Jews who want to engage in the celebrations around the winter solstice. As such certain elements around the festival of lights has adapted over the years; such as the giving of gifts which is now a common feature of Western Chanukah celebrations.

What happens during Chanukah?

For eight nights, families say prayers and light candles on an eight-branched candelabra called a menorah. Most families also serve special holiday foods, sing songs, play games, and give gifts including Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins).

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What are the major traditions at Chanukah?

While traditions vary, there are some staple traditions of Chanukah that remain the same around the world.

Eight Nights

Chanukah is celebrated over eight nights and eight days. While the size of the celebration varies over the eights days, each night represents the great miracle that happened in Jerusalem.

The Menorah

The menorah lighting is customary to commemorate the miracle of the oil. The menorah is an eight branched candelabra with a spot for a ninth candle in the centre (the shamash). The shamash is lit throughout Chanukah and of the eight branches, one candle is lit each night from the flame of the shamash.

Special blessings and daily prayers are given, and each candle is allowed to burn down each night before replacing it the next day.

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What Does Chanukah Mean?

The word Chanukah is Hebrew has no direct translation into English or any other language. It comes from the term "hanukkat hamizbe’ah," meaning "dedication of the altar."

Hanukkah or Chanukah?

There are over 16 ways to spell Chanukah. Chanukah with a 'ch' beginning, follows the Hebrew pronunciation.

Hanukkah is the official spelling in America and other western countries.

What Part Does Food Play in Chanukah?

Like all festivals and celebrations, food plays a large part in Chanukah. The miracle of the oil inspires much of the dishes, with foods fried in oil such as latkes and sufganiyot taking centre stage.

Some of the foods that you'll find at the Chanukah table are:

Latkes - potato pancakes made of potatoes and onion which are fried in oil and served with apple sauce.

Sufganiyot - are delicious jelly-filled doughnuts that are fried and dusted with sugar.

Kugel - a sweet stew or savoury casserole made with potatoes or noodles.

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What Gifts to Give On Chanukah?

Gifts are the western custom at Chanukah - it is common nowadays for families to share gifts and presents with one another without the festival dictating the gift.

One traditional gift at Chanukah is gelt. Gelt was originally money which was given as a gift and is still given today. However, gelt is now seen as a gift for children, so the most popular Chanukah gelt gift is chocolate coins.

When children are given real money, they are often taught to give away a portion to those less fortunate. This is a way to teach children about tzedakah, the Jewish tradition of charity.

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Stars at Dusk

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly wrapping paper to wrap your Chanukah gifts this year, bring bright starlight to your gifts with our Stars at Dusk print, now available to buy in our shop.

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