5 Reasons You Should Celebrate Hanukkah
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you don’t have to wonder which December holiday most of the population is celebrating. Retailers would have us start celebrating in July with their made up “Christmas in July” campaigns!
Are you someone who likes to start thinking about Christmas once October rolls around? I think many of us get the holiday spirit once we begin candy buying and costume creation.
As someone who didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas as a child, I have a unique perspective about Christmas, as do my fellow Christmas-Day-Chinese-food- eating folks. I’m not going to lie, when I was a child and I asked why we couldn’t have a Christmas tree, I wasn’t satisfied with the answer. But when we are children, we always want what “everyone else” has, don’t we!
As a parent, my feeling is that celebrating the holidays of all cultures is where it’s at. There’s no reason we can’t get on the holiday bandwagon and join others in the joy of celebration!
With that spirit in mind, there are some things I’d like to share with you about Hanukkah, because let’s face it...Hanukkah Harry isn’t as well known as Ol’ Saint Nick!
Do you know the story of Hanukkah? I’ll give you the “cliff’s notes” version. There was an evil king (so many stories start this way, don’t they?) who prohibited the Jewish people from practicing their religion. This king had his folks take over the Jewish temple and redecorate it and do unholy things in it.
There was a Jewish leader who had enough of this madness and had his followers fight the king’s men and reclaim the temple. The leader was called Judah Maccabee and he ordered his troops to clean the temple and light the menorah with the little bit of oil available so they could rededicate the temple. The oil was really only enough to last 1 night, but the oil burned for 8 nights, which was said to be a miracle. This is the miracle that we celebrate on Hanukkah.
Here are 5 Reasons Why Hanukkah is Fun
Latkes and Donuts (Sufganiyot)
8 days of presents
1) Latkes and Donuts (Sufganiyot) These foods are practically synonymous with Hanukkah. The reason we eat latkes and jam-filled donuts is because they are fried in oil, because the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 days that we celebrate! And, because they’re delicious! Here’s my latkes recipe, which is entirely kid-friendly! And you need applesauce to go with the latkes!
2) Menorahs The menorah is a candle holder with a place for 9 candles. There are 4 on either side and then 1 “helper” candle in the middle called the “shamash” /shah-mas/.
In order to light the candles, the shamash is lit and then used to light the other candles. On the first night of Hanukkah, the candle all the way on the right is lit first, as Hebrew is written from right to left. We say a blessing over the candles every time we light them.
When my girl was young, she would always start singing “Happy Birthday” when we lit the candles!
3) Dreidels You probably heard the song about the little Hanukkah top called the dreidel. So what is it, and why do we play it at Hanukkah? The answer might surprise you! The game is adapted from an old German gambling game! Rabbis weren’t big on games of chance that players could win money or candy, so Hanukkah was the one of the few days in the year where this “gambling” was permitted!
Each side of the top has a Hebrew letter, and each player takes a turn spinning the top. Each Hebrew letter represents an action like “put one in,” “take half the pot,” and “get nothing.” It’s kind of like a game of Uno! You can play for candy, buttons, coins or chocolate coins!
4) Gelt (Chocolate Coins) Gelt is the chocolate “coins” that i mentioned above, which can be used in the “pot” when playing dreidel. And also just eaten in general because who doesn’t like eating chocolate that looks like money! And other stuff dipped in chocolate!
5) 8 Days of Presents. I mean, do I really have to say why this is fun!? This is the major selling point and ammo for the retort that a jealous Jewish kid says when made to feel sad because Santa doesn’t visit his house….yes, there is a present every night when we celebrate Hanukkah!
Once the menorah is lit and the blessing is uttered, it’s latke time with applesauce, of course, and then it’s present time! And donuts!! Traditionally, giving gifts was not part of Hanukkah, and it’s not even a major holiday in Judaism. However, because Hanukkah falls close to Christmas, the retailers got in the action and added that in the holiday! Though it really works out for everyone in the end!
I hope you learned at least 1 thing about this mysterious, miraculous, menorah-filled holiday. Now go celebrate with a donut!