What is Hanukkah and why is it important?

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Hanukkah: you may have heard of it. It’s likely the most mainstream Jewish holiday out there referenced in many holiday TV specials, brought up in movies, even frequently referred to in cartoons. But how much do you really know about Hanukkah? Well here’s some Hanukkah info you may not have known before!

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that falls on the 25th of Kislev (or, for those of you who for some reason aren’t well versed in Jewish calendars, it usually falls sometime during November or December).

The holiday is celebrated to commemorate the Maccabean revolt that occurred during the second century BCE, which saw the Jewish people led by the Maccabee warriors, rise up against their Greek oppressors.

Once the Greeks were defeated (miraculously), the Jewish people returned to their desecrated temple to light the menorah — a big gold candelabra that held seven pots of oil that would be set aflame. It was of high ceremonial importance.

Unfortunately, all of the oil in the temple was destroyed by the Greeks. The only vat of oil that was found could only last for one night (at least a week was needed to make more oil).

The Jews put in the small amount of oil anyhow and then unbelievably, the oil lasted for eight days! This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days every year, in order to commemorate the miracle.

Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights much like the Hindu holiday of Diwali. The difference being with the Hindu festival of lights is that there are five days of beautiful fireworks, while the Jewish variety mainly has you awkwardly singing prayers with the rest of your family whiling lighting crusty candles you’ve kept in the basement for the last seven years.

Hanukkah is similar to Christmas in a lot of ways, most importantly in that during both holidays presents are given. I will admit however that the Jewish children aren’t given presents from an overweight, elderly home invader but somehow I’m pretty ok with that reality.

On the subject of presents during Hanukkah, you typically receive one for every night making that eight total.

This sounds great on paper until you actually get the presents and realize that they’re all cheap dollar store toys that provide you with around fifteen minutes of excitement.

Some of my favorites include the animals you put in water and watch them grow bigger, the fossil kit for removing plastic dinosaur bones and those little water games where you’d push the button and pray the rings stacked together.

Food is, of course, a big part of this holiday (as it is for every Jewish holiday). The classic Hanukkah food has got to be the latkes, full of oily goodness. They’re really just potato pancakes but damn, they are delicious.

They help to once again, commemorate the miracle of the oil. We also eat Jelly doughnuts. I don’t really know why, but like hell if I’m one to complain.

And then there’s Hanukkah gelt (or chocolate coins for all you plebeians who don’t know what gelt is). Now while chocolate gelt is very good for eating, there’s something else that it is much better for. Underage gambling!

What I am referring to is the game of dreidel, where you sit around with your cousins and spin that four-sided top with that sweet, sweet Hanukkah gelt on the line.

Me, being the eight-year-old badass that I was, would always spin my dreidel upside down and take that gelt like it was nobody’s business. I mean nobody would actually eat the gelt afterward for some reason, but the thrill of the win was more than enough for most.

Anyhow, I hope you gained a much wider understanding of the Jewish festival of lights, it’s really a fun holiday with a lot of rich tradition and meaning. I wish everyone happy holidays and additionally, I would like to issue a dreidel spin challenge to anyone who has the stomach for it, fight me.

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