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Happy Hanukkah – Some Trivia to Start Off the Holiday

December 17th, 2014

Happy HanukkaHappy Hanukkah – Some Trivia to Start Off the Holiday

This year, Hanukkah (sometimes written Chanukah) starts at sundown on Tuesday, December 16th.  It will continue until the evening of Wednesday, December 24th. In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication,” and this holiday celebrates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of a small band of Jewish rebels (called the Maccabees) over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BCE.

The story is that there was only enough oil to last one night, and the lamps were able to be lit for 8 nights.

The food

Because this is the festival of the oil, traditional foods are fried.  You might think the most common one would be the latkes or potato pancakes, but it’s actually the sufganiyot which is a fried donut filled with jelly.

Eating dairy food, especially cheese, is another tradition.  Its story is in honor of Judith who, according to legend, saved her village from Syrian attackers.  She fed the general Holofernes so much wine and cheese until he passed out.  Judith took the general’s sword and chopped off his head which she brought back to her village in a basket.  The next morning, the Syrian soldiers were so frightened by seeing the headless body of their leader that they headed for the hills.

The fun

The dreidel is played with and you can win gilt which are chocolate coins.  In ye really olden times, the Syrians forbade people from learning the Torah.  So the students kept the dreidels around, and pretended to gamble when the Syrians popped by. Outside of Israel, a dreidel has the Hebrew letters “nun,” “gimel,” “hay,” and “shin” on its four sides. These letters stand for “Nes gadol haya sham,” which means, “A great miracle happened there,” referring to Israel. An Israeli dreidel has the letter “pay” rather than “shin.” This stands for “poh,” meaning “here”a great miracle happened here.”

The Hebrew letters also represent Yiddish words that tell how to play the dreidel game. Each player starts with the same amount of candies, chocolate coins (gelt), or other tokens, and puts one in a pot. Players take turns spinning the dreidel, waiting to see which letter lands face up. Nun is for “nisht,” do nothing. Gimel is for “gants,” take the whole pot. Hay is for “halb,” take half. Shin is for “shtel,” add to the pot. The game ends when a single player wins all the tokens.

Thanks to: Hanukkah — for this information.

Eight Things You Didn’t Know About Hanukkah

  1. This is actually a minor holiday, but because of its proximity to Christmas, it has become a large, family-centered celebration. (some claim it happened in the late 1800s.)
  2. One additional candle is lit on the Menorah (also called the ‘hanukkiyah’) until all nine candles are lit.   The tradition is to start on the left, and move the candles one spot to the right so the newest candle is in the far left position.
  3. The original Menorah had room for 7 wicks, and after the miracle of having oil to light the lamp for eight days, they added in two more branches to the lamp.
  4. The ninth candle is an “attendant candle” and used to light all the others.
  5. The dates (to us) always seem to be different.  But if you had a Hebrew calendar, you’d note that Hanukkah always starts on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.  This corresponds to beginning four days before the new moon which is the darkest night of the Kislev month symbolizing bringing light in the darkest time of the year.
  6. The candles are supposed to burn for at least a half an hour after the stars come out.
  7. The menorah should be placed in a window to share the miracle and celebration with passers-by.
  8. Gift giving wasn’t a part of the original holiday (lucky for the kids, this got changed)


What’s your favorite holiday?  Post it in the comments so we can post trivia and share it with our readers.

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