Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday at the end of the year, is an 8 day celebration of thanksgiving. Interestingly, unlike any other Jewish holiday, the essence of its festive atmosphere derives almost entirely from home ritual and customs, including the candle lighting (of course) as well as a host of special holiday songs, games, and foods. Let’s take a look:
•Lighting the Hanukkiyah: At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting, a hannukiah. The hanukkiyah commemorates the miracle of the oil which lasted for eight full days, and so a new candle is lit on the hanukkiyah for the each of the eight days of the holiday. The main purpose of these Hanukkah lights is to publicize the Hanukkah miracle, and so the hanukkiyah is ideally lit in a place where the candles can be seen from outside.
• Fried Foods: As Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it has become traditional to eat foods fried in oil. Potato pancakes (known as latkes) and jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot) are particularly popular this time of year.
•The Dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, a four-sided top. Legend attributes this custom to Jewish children during the time of the Hanukkah story. During this period Jews were not free to openly practice their religion, so when they gathered to study Torah or pray, if Greek soldiers appeared, they would quickly pretend to be playing a gambling game with the top.
•Gelt: For centuries it has been customary to give small amounts of Hanukkah “gelt” (Yiddush for “money”). The most likely source for this tradition stems from the fact that Hanukkah is linguistically connected to the Hebrew word for education, chinuch, so parents would give coins to their children to learn Torah. Today, many families continue to give their children gelt as part of their Hanukkah celebration. Hanukkah in recent years has also become known as a prime time for giving for many other types of gifts as well.