The eight-day celebration of Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Jews over their oppressors in ancient Israel. When they returned to their temple, as the legend goes, the Jewish people found enough oil for only one day, yet it miraculously lasted for eight. The word Hanukkah means “dedication” (and also shares the same root as “educate”) and so, every tradition observed in this period is a symbol of that enthusiasm.
The menorah holds nine candles, eight of which represent the days the oil lasted in the temple. The ninth candle is for the Shamash, the one used to light all the other candles. The candles are placed from right to left and then lit from left to right with the new one always lit first.
Again, the theme of oil is prominent throughout the observance, especially in regards to the food. A Hanukkah meal always includes oil-fried latkes and jam-filled donuts called sufganiyot. To expand on your holiday dinner, consider serving foods incorporating the winter harvest such as butternut squash soup, Cornish hens, rice pilaf, and roasted vegetables. There is very nice Hanukkah dinnerware available that will certainly help with the cleanup factor.
For many families, the traditions continue by playing dreidel after the holiday meal. The toy has four sides, each topped with a Hebrew letter – nun, gimmel, hey, and shin; the first letters of the Hebrew word meaning, “a great miracle happened here.” Other activities can include making paper chains and dreidels out of white and blue construction paper or molding beeswax candles for the menorah. Exchanging gifts on each of the eight nights is probably the favorite aspect for children.
The Hanukkah traditions, while simple, are filled with the memories of centuries. Happy Hanukkah!