Beginning Dec. 12, Jewish people across the globe will light the menorah, spin dreidels and indulge in eating potato latkes to celebrate the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah.
The tradition dates back to the Maccabean Revolt in the second century B.C.E. when the Seleucids, a Hellenistic empire that rose up after the death of Alexander the Great, ruled Jerusalem. They tried to force the people of Israel to adopt Greek culture and banned all Jewish practices.
A small group, called the Maccabees fought back for three years before recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. When the Maccabees went to light the menorah they found just one day’s worth of uncontaminated olive oil, but against all odds the oil miraculously lasted the full eight days it took to prepare more oil.
In celebration, Jewish people spend eight days, remembering the miracle and connect with their culture. The holiday falls on the 25th of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which can be as early as November or more typical in December on the Gregorian calendar.
The nightly lighting of the menorah is at the heart of the holiday’s celebration. The shamash, the ninth candle, lights all the candles and three blessings are recited on the first night and two prayers every other night. Menorahs are usually placed in a window or doorway.
Children and adults alike then gather to play with a dreidel, a four-sided top where winners can collect coins, nuts, chocolates or really anything. Players add these to the pot and based on the dreidel’s spin do nothing, add to the pot or take half or all of the items.
What’s for dinner? Often latkes, shallow-fried pancakes of potato, flour and egg often seasoned with garlic or onion. Latkes have been part of the Hanukkah festivities since Ashkenazi Jews began preparing them for the holiday in the 1800s.
Presents are often to given to the children, but the real gift are the lessons gained from the stories. The Maccabees were greatly outnumbered, but they stood up for their right to worship how they chose. Now menorahs shine brightly out windows as a beacon, reminding Jewish people that no matter the odds they face they can overcome.