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Hanukkah: A Crash Course

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Hanukkah: A Crash Course

Mariel Elopre

Mariel Elopre

Mariel Elopre

By Yoav Margalit, Staff Writer

Being happy at times of celebration is a universal constant in all cultures, and it’s that consistency that brings both curiosity and common ground to those who celebrate different holidays.

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, sometimes known as the Festival of Lights, is one example of such holidays.
What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is a celebration, by candlelight, of a miracle that is recognized by the Jewish faith. In short, the story of Hanukkah is that there was a holy candle that should have run out of oil to burn, yet it kept burning for the eight days that it took to bring more oil.

To commemorate this event, the holiday includes lighting a succession of candles on a special candle holder, called a menorah, which is lit every night for eight nights, each time with another candle.

Usually, the ceremony of Hanukkah in the home involves singing, eating traditional foods and the famous spinning of the dreidel. The dreidel is a spinning top with four Hebrew letters etched into the sides. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase “נס גדול היה שם,” which translates to “a large (or great) miracle happened there,” in commemoration of the event Hanukkah celebrates.

What about the gift- giving? How does that fit in?

The short answer is that it doesn’t. The long answer is that the American version of Hanukkah has adopted the tradition of gift-giving from Christmas, which is, in itself, an example of gift-giving finding its way into a previously gift-less holiday.

The European and Israeli traditions of the holiday generally ask for relatively little gift-giving, with an emphasis on family gathering and the ceremony of the occasion (the traditional songs, foods and praying).
How important is the Hanukkah holiday?

Despite the fact that it comes during such an important time in the Western calendar (when there is a break for students and workers alike), Hanukkah isn’t that important, as far as the range of Jewish holidays go.

Yom Kippur, Passover and Rosh Hashana are all Jewish holidays that hold quite a bit more weight to the majority of Jewish people. This doesn’t change the fact that Hanukkah is a revered holiday. However, it certainly isn’t as important to the average Jew as Christmas is to the average Christian.

Seeing that we are at the time of the year that brings people together through celebration, now is also a good opportunity to learn about others. Whether it’s discovering more about one’s own holiday or working to understand another, it’s never a bad idea to learn more about the world around us.

Yoav is a junior in LAS.

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