What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is the eight day Jewish holiday known as the “festival of lights” or “feast of dedication.” Each year the holiday falls sometime between late November and the end of December. In 2013, Hanukkah will last from November 27th to December 5th.
Hanukkah is the celebration of a miracle that happened over 2,100 years ago. In 175 BCE, the Syrian-Greek king Antiochus IV (his nickname was “madman”) led his army into Jerusalem where he took over the city and the Temple.
Antiochus hated the Jews and his goal was to wipe them out completely. He threatened to kill any and all Jews who worshiped the one true God and instead ordered them to worship false Greek gods. His huge army made sure the people of the land followed the King’s orders.
Antiochus knew that the Temple was the center of Jewish religious life. Therefore, to end Temple worship he put a statue of the fake God Zeus in the Temple. He then sacrificed a pig on the holy altar. The Greek army either stole or destroyed all of the treasures inside the second Temple. Antiochus forbid Jews to continue making sacrifices at the Temple. He also outlawed all Jewish religious laws.
For three years the Jews lived under Antiochus’s harsh treatment but they were too frightened to rebel. It took a brave family of Jewish fighters to finally lead a revolt. The Maccabees were the sons of Mattathias, a Jewish priest. Their names were: Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah. Judah was nicknamed “Judah the Hammer” because of his bravery and fighting ability. Other Jewish fighters eventually joined the brothers and the group became known as “the Maccabees.” For three years, they hid in the hills of Judah and laid out their plans to attack and expel the larger and more equipped Syrian army. Despite all odds, they soon recaptured their land and won the Temple back. The only explanation for their victory is that they were given “strength from Heaven.”
When they took over the Temple they had to rededicate it to God before they could start back Temple sacrifices. This meant getting rid of the pagan idols, building a new altar, cleansing the remains of pig sacrifices, and replacing all of the stolen Temple vessels. They also needed to light the Temple menorahs using holy olive oil. However they only had one day’s worth of oil to keep the menorahs lit. On faith, they used it anyway. God was faithful to the Maccabees and made that small amount of oil miraculously last for eight days. That gave them enough time to make more holy oil.
The most important tradition each night of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah to celebrate the miracle of the oil. The Hanukkah menorah (called the hannukkiyah) has eight candles plus a candle used as the lighter called the “shamash.” On the first night of Hanukkah one candle is lit, and on the next night two are lit, and so on. On each night, the leftmost candle is lit first, and lighting proceeds from left to right. By the last night, all eight candles burn.
Before or after the candles are lit, depending on the family’s tradition, two blessings are said. One blessing is for the candles and the other is for the miracle. Here they are:
Hebrew: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner (shel) hanuka.
Translation: “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light[s].”
Hebrew: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, she‑asa nisim la‑avoteinu ba‑yamim ha‑heim ba‑z’man ha‑ze.
Translation: “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time…”
Hanerot Halelu (hear it on MP3)–After the menorah lights are kindled each night, families sing the Jewish hymn Hanerot Halalu. The translated lyrics go something like this: “We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders, for the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers, in those days at this season, through your holy priests. During all eight days of Hanukkah these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them except for to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.”
Judah the Maccabee (This is an original coloring page from The Jerusalem Connection. It’s the first in our new coloring page series.)
Family playing with a Dreidal
Family at Hanukkah
Star of David Crown
The Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans 2000 years ago, not long after Jesus died and rose again. Before the Temple was destroyed, however, it was one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The Temple is where Jews worshiped God and sacrificed animals to God on the golden altar. The Temple was absolutely central to Jewish religious life in Jerusalem. Hanukkah is the story of Jews winning back the Temple after it had fallen into evil hands.
Alec Garrard, a retired farmer in England, worked for thirty years to make an elaborate model of the Jewish Temple. The model measures 20 feet by 12 feet. He even hand-made 4,000 tiny human figures including priests, rabbis, women, and children. Experts believe his model is the best in the world.
Click here to see pictures of his Temple model. Maybe you can try to build your own model!
“Then came the Feast of Dedication [Hanukkah] at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22- 30)
For the week of Hanukkah, Jews eat foods fried in oil. The cooking oil symbolizes the miracle of the burning oil lamps in the Holy Temple. Who wouldn’t love a holiday that requires you to eat fried food? You can eat donuts (sufganiyot), french fries, falafel, or pretty much any fried thing you can come up with. Yummy! Try these recipes at home.
The dreidal is one of the best known symbols of Hanukkah. The spinning top has four sides. On each side of the top is a Hebrew letter: Nun, Gimmel, Hey and Shin. The letters form an acronym standing for Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means “A Great Miracle Happened There [in Israel].” In Israel, dreidals are made with the last letter Pei instead of Shin so the acronym translates “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”
To play the game each person starts off with an equal number of game pieces. Chocolate coins are commonly used but it can be anything (raisins, peanuts, or candy). Before each round every player puts one coin in the pot. In addition, every time the pot is empty or down to one game piece, every player puts one coin in the pot. Players take turns spinning the dreidal. The Hebrew letter that the dreidal lands on determines the spinner’s next action. They will either be putting in or taking out coins from the pot.
NUN ( )- Spinner loses a turn, the dreidal goes to the next player.
GIMEL ()- Spinner wins all the coins in the pot.
SHIN ( ) or PEH ( ) – Spinner loses all of his/her coins.