In today’s hectic pace of the holidays we must remember that not all of our friends and relations celebrate the joy of Christmas. The most closely associated religious holiday to Christmas is the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. Given the closeness in dates the two are often lumped together. Some foolishly refer to Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas- how absurd! Hanukkah 2012 begins at sunset tomorrow, December 8th and runs until sunset on Sunday, December 16th. But what is it really all about?
Hanukkah, or Chanukah, loosely translates to “dedication” or “induction”. The festival is on different dates each year due to the difference in calendars. It starts on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Unlike other Jewish holidays it is meant to be celebrated publicly. Hanukkah is a celebration and remembrance of the 2nd Century BCE victory of a small outnumbered troop of the Maccabees over the stronger and more numerous Greeks. When the Maccabees retook the Temple the found only 1 day’s worth of suitable oil to light, but miraculously the oil burned eight days until new oil was readied. To celebrate you light candles on the hanukkiyah, Hanukkah menorah, each night. Blessings are said each night as the candles are lit. On the first night there are 3 specific blessings read as the candle to the right is lit. Each night an additional candle is lit moving from right to left. Lighting the menorah reminds us that even in darkness there is light .
Celebrating in 2012 will be unique since the first night falls on the Shabbat (Holy Day). After the usual practices of the day it is time for the Havdalah. This is a ceremony to take leave of the Shabbat. It involves a cup of wine, a box of spices, and a braided candle. Blessings are said for each and when finished it is time to begin the ceremony to light the menorah. Other usual traditions will be part of Hanukkah too. There is the games with a dreidel, the four-sided spinning top and the newer practice of exchanging gelt, or gifts. Some ultra modern, and some say secular, folks there may even be a Hanukkah Bush. Food is a big part of the festival too. Foods prepared by frying in oil are popular. These include hot and cold latkes, sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and bimuelos (pastry balls). Mazel tov for a wonderful Hanukkah 2012!
Hanukkah has even become a part of the holiday traditions at the White House. The earliest connection came in 1951. Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion gifted a menorah to President Truman. In 1979 President Carter was the first president to participate in a lighting ceremony, held on the national mall. President Clinton was the first president to host the candle lighting inside the White House. In 2001 President Bush began hosting a reception for key Jewish leaders and politicians that continues today. In 2008 the reception featured a candle lighting using that first White House menorah from 1951. It was lit by the grandsons of Ben-Gurion and Truman.