With Chanukah approaching, and it being so close to Christmas, there may be some fun facts you want to share with friends who don’t know about its traditions — and possibly clear up the misconception that it’s the “Jewish Christmas.”
- Chanukah is not a High Holiday
Even though it often comes around Christmastime, one of the most important Christian holidays, Chanukah is not a High Holiday for Jews (unlike Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur). It’s a fun holiday with a rich backstory, yes. But it’s mostly celebrated at home rather than at synagogue.
- The Maccabees fought against oppressors
The Maccabees were a Jewish group that revolted against King Antiochus of Syria, who outlawed the Jewish religion and had desecrated the holy Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees, a small army, prevailed against the Syrians and cleansed and rebuilt the temple. We celebrate the Maccabees on Chanukah and tell their story.
- There are popular Chanukah songs
Christmas isn’t the only wintertime holiday with its own dedicated songs! Some of the most popular Chanukah songs are “I Have a Little Dreidel,” “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” and the traditional classic, “Maoz Tsur” — a poetic retelling of several times the Jews were delivered from their enemies, including the story that Chanukah is centered around. (Its English counterpart is “Rock of Ages.”)
- We eat special fried foods on Chanukah
One of the miracles of Chanukah is that after the Jews’ holy temple being desecrated, a small amount of oil that should’ve only lasted one day burned for eight days! So we eat delicious fried foods to celebrate that oil; namely latkes, which are fried shredded potato pancakes, and sufganiyot, which are jelly-filled fried donuts.
- Dreidel is a fun gambling game
We may or may not be gambling with the game of dreidel … Jewish children under Syrian rule who continued to study Torah illegally would take out spinning tops to play with when guards walked by. Now, we play with a four-sided top. Depending on which letter (nun, gimmel, hay, or shin) you land on, you get nothing, the full pot, half the pot or you have to put your money in the pot!
- We light candles for eight nights
Menorahs (or more specifically, chanukiahs) have nine branches to hold candles, but we only light candles for eight nights. The highest candle, called the shamash or “helper” candle, is what we use to light each subsequent candle for the night. On the first night, we light one candle. On the second night we light two — and so on, until the eighth night when all the candles shine brightly in the windowsill.