Hanukkah, which means "dedication" and is also referred to as "The Festival of Lights", is a Jewish festival which begins on the Hebrew date of the 25th of Kislev and lasts eight days, through the 2nd of Tevet. This year, that corresponds to November 30th through December 7th. Hannukah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees (led by Judah) over the Hellenistic Syrians in a revolt that took place around 165 BCE (note: Jews use BCE--Before the Common Era and CE--the Common Era instead of BC and AD).
The victory in itself was considered a miracle, but Jewish legend gives an additional explanation for Hanukkah rituals, explained below. Once the Temple Mount in Jerusalem had been reclaimed, the Temple had to be rededicated. According to legend, only one jar of sacramental oil was found, enough for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, thus the eight days of Hanukkah.
The most important Hanukkah ritual is the candle lighting. Jews light candles in a special candleholder called a "menorah" or a "hanukkiah". Each night, one more candle is added. The middle candle, called the "shamash", is used to light each of the other candles and it is lit every night. Therefore, on the first night of Hanukkah, two candles are lit (the shamash and the candle for the first night) and on the last night, there are nine lit candles.
It is traditional to eat foods fried in oil during Hanukkah. Some common foods are potato latkes and "sufganiot" (jelly doughnuts).
Another tradition is to play the "dreidel" game. A dreidel (or "sivivon") is a four-sided top. On each side is a different Hebrew letter: nun (nun), gimel (gimel), heh (heh) and peh (peh), corresponding to the words in the sentence "nes gadol haya po" ("A great miracle happened here"). Of course, the miracle happened in Israel, so outside of Israel, the letter peh (peh) is replaced by shin (shin) for "nes gadol haya sham" ("A great miracle happened there"). The dreidel is used for a gambling game in which each letter represents a different amount of money (or whatever...) won or lost.
Another common Hanukkah practice is giving gifts or "gelt" (money) to children. In Hebrew, "gelt" is called "d'mei Hanukkah".
In Israel, Hanukkah is a very festive time. Schools are out for a week and there are lots of parties and special events around the country. We sing Hanukkah songs (like the one playing in the background), eat lots of fattening food and have lots of fun!
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