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The holidays are approaching, and what better way for Jews to embrace their identity than with Hanukkah? The term Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew word meaning “dedication.” From December 10-18, observant Jews celebrate this particular holiday in honor of the Second Temple built in Jerusalem. The Jewish festival remembers the ancient Israelites and their fight for religious freedom. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, requires certain rituals to be completed. With that said, here is how you can celebrate the holiday in Hebrew fashion.
Historical Significance of Hanukkah
In the second century BCE, Jewish warriors known as the Maccabees took back the Second Temple of Jerusalem after its desecration from the Seleucid Empire. Although Romans destroyed the temple in the first century CE, Hanukkah is a holiday that remembers the bravery of the Maccabees and their valiant efforts.
I Maccabees states Judas Maccabeus held the first Hanukkah in 165 CE. He did it in commemoration of his victory over the Seleucid king, who failed in his invasion to Hellenize the Jewish people. Since then, Jews all over the world continue to celebrate this particular holiday.
The Menorah and the Shamash Candle
As an observant Jew, you must celebrate Hanukkah by lighting a special candle on each of the eight days. The lampstand you use is known as the menorah, and it holds eight candles for each day you celebrate. In the middle of the menorah, the final candle is lit right above all the other ones; this candle is known as the shamash. The word shamash is Hebrew for “attendant.” On the final night, all eight candles should be lit together. During these events, some prayers commemorate both the lighting of the candles and remembering the miracle of these special days in Hanukkah.
Customs of the Jewish Holiday
During the eight-day festival, you can feast on traditional Jewish cuisine. Hanukkah focuses on oil-based foods like latkes, which are Jewish pancakes. The food is fried due to the method you make it since oil represents the ancient lamp. You can also try loukoumades, which are deep-fried cakes, the Maccabees, once ate in tradtiton. Try dipping these cakes in either sugar or honey for a delicious, sweet taste.
Besides eating, other festivities include games like Dreidel. The game uses a spinning top with four sides, where each side carries a letter in Hebrew. When spelled out, the Hebrew sentence “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” appears. Translated, the phrase means “a great miracle happened here.” Dreidel is played right after all the candles are lit.
You can also distribute special coins to children. Known as Hanukkah gelts, these are typically given during Dreidel. You can also use chocolate variations as a type of treat. Whether you choose to use real gold coins or chocolate ones is up to you. If you want to use chocolate, try a homemade recipe, or buy it from a kosher store. Either way, it’s an exciting tradition your children can look forward to every year.
How to Say “Happy Holidays” in Hebrew
Do you want to greet your Jewish friends and family during the holidays? One way you can do so is with the Hebrew words “Chag sameach.” It translates to “happy festival” and can be used in a general context. Remember, the “ch” in Hebrew words like “chag sameach” sound differently than “ch” in English words. The “ch” should have a hard “k” sound to them whenever you speak Hebrew. On a side note, this Hebrew pronunciation also applies to Chanukah, which is another way you can refer to Hanukkah.
It’s a special time of year for observant Jews to get together and remember the freedom in which the ancient Jewish people fought for. The menorah is a special lamp post where you can light a candle each day to celebrate the miracle of the Jewish people. Enjoy a delicious feast of oil-fried food as your children can play Dreidel and receive Hanukkah traditions in return. Always remember the Maccabees stood up against their oppressors to fight for the rights of all who practice the Jewish faith. Remain firm in your faith in G-d as you celebrate this holiday with your friends and family this winter.