While other Jewish holidays are celebrated privately in a family’s home or with others in a Synagogue, Chanukah, or commonly referred to as Hanukkah, is a celebration that is meant to publicize a miracle from Jewish history.
This celebration stems from accounts of how a small band of Jews defeated the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) more than 21 centuries ago. When the Jews were reclaiming their Holy Temple in Jerusalem they only had a one-day supply of purified olive oil to use to light their Temple’s menorah. This small amount of oil miraculously burned for eight days.
Chanukah is celebrated today by Jews all over the world to remember how their Holy Temple was reclaimed and how the small amount of oil lasted long enough for new oil to be prepared for the Temple’s menorah. Menorahs are the essential components in these celebrations.
The menorah has nine candles. The candle in the middle is used to light the other eight, which represent the eight days the original 0ne-day supply of oil lasted. A new candle is lit each night with the first one being the candle to the far right of the menorah. On the second night of the festival the second candle from the right is lit before the original one. The candles that are used each night run from the right to the left of the menorah but they are lit from left to right.
Although gift giving is not mandatory, many Jewish families give gifts to each other, especially to the children. “Chanukah gelt” or Chanukah money is sometimes also given. Some sources site this custom as stemming from times when families were offered money so that they could purchase the candles or oil that they needed for their menorah. The money is also a reminder that the menorah candle light is never to be used to count money.
Rabbi Lee of the Chabad of Peachtree City said that the Chanukah celebration sends two strong messages to Jewish families.
“The first message is that you have to stand up for your religious freedom. Having the ability to express yourself spiritually should never be taken for granted. The second message of Chanukah is that it is a holiday that focuses on the outside, you are suppose to light up the night,” Lee said.
“The family gathers around the menorah and no matter how dark it is, one candle can light up the area. That is how our faith lights up our lives. We are forced to content with darkness, but there is always that one bright light,” Lee said.
During Chanukah families enjoy other traditional customs. Special prayers and songs are shared by family members as well as wine and fried foods. Children have special activities and games, with the dreidel and its song perhaps being the most well-known of these.
Chanukah is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate their Jewish heritage and faith.
Local Chanukah activities have been planned by Jewish centers in Sandy Springs, West Cobb, Marietta, Augusta and Peachtree City.
Various websites have further information on Chanukah, one such source is Chabad.org.