COUNTDOWN TO WINTER BREAK: 9 Facts About Hanukkah That You Might Not Know


Erica Watson, Contributor

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  1. Hanukkah lasts eight days because of miracle oil.
  • Hanukkah is actually an underdog story; when the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebel warriors, fought the Greeks because they were issuing decrees that forbid the practice of the Jewish religion. Hanukkah lasts for eight nights because the Greeks defiled all of the oils that were in the temple; only one container of oil remained and that amount was only enough to light a candelabrum for one day, but instead, in a miracle, the oil lasted for eight days.

2. The Dreidel was originally a game of life or death.

  • The dreidel is a four-sided top people play with on Hanukkah. Each side has a letter on it that represents a move for the game and the beginning of the letter in a sentence. “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” – “a great miracle happened there,” but in Israel, it says Nes Gadol Hayah Poh—”A great miracle happened here.” The game actually originated when the Greek Syrians were becoming a progressively more oppressive force in trying to convert the Jews. The Jewish population tried to conceal their practice by learning Torah in outlying areas, but the enemy had many patrols. The Jews brought along small tops that they would quickly pull out to pretend that they were only playing games.

3. Not every menorah is a Hanukiah, but every Hanukiah is a menorah.

  • The word menorah, which actually means candelabra in Hebrew, has been popularized, but menorah is not the technical term for what is used during Hanukkah; it is actually called a Hanukiah. A Hanukiah is a type of candelabra, with nine candle holders. Eight candles are in a line and the ninth candle is out of place, either at a different height or a different position on the Hanukiah.

4. The extra candle’s name has a double meaning.

  • There is an extra candle on the Hanukkiah called the Shamash. The word, which means helper, is also used to describe a person who assists in the running of a synagogue or its religious services. The Shamash is also known as the helper candle, and it is used each night to light the other candles.

5. Hanukkah gifts actually originated to teach charity.

  • Hanukkah was not originally a holiday where gifts were important. There are no Talmudic roots to the concept of gift-giving on Hanukkah, but there is an age-old custom of giving gifts of gelt (money) to children on Hanukkah in order to teach them to give to charity and also to make their education sweeter. Because it frequently falls around Christmas, many people assume that the holiday is also about gift-giving. In Israel, and many other places, gifts are not given on Hanukkah. In fact, the true meaning is to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, so the spirit of Hanukkah is actually to spread light to others, not just to get gifts.

6. Foods fried in oil are delicious.

  • The above fact is obvious, but two foods that are commonly eaten on Hanukkah are latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), both fried in oil. This is mainly because the holiday celebrates the miracle of the oil, so eating foods fried in oil helps to reinforce the message and to celebrate the blessing that God gave the Jews. Sufganiyot can also be stuffed with cream or chocolate ganache.

7. Hanukkah is actually a minor holiday for the Jewish religion.

  • Hanukkah is one of the minor holidays of the Jewish religion, but because it has been commercialized and is located near the Christian holiday of Christmas, many people falsely believe it is one of the biggest Jewish holidays. While not the most important, the message of Hanukkah still points out one of the most important themes in Jewish history: the struggle to practice Judaism when others try to eliminate it.

8. The candles on the Hanukiah are not to be used for anything else.

  • On the first night of Hanukkah three prayers as the candles are lit, but during the next seven nights, only two prayers are read. One of the prayers mentions that followers are not to use the candles, but “only to behold them, so that their glow may rouse [them] to give thanks for God’s wondrous acts of deliverance.”

9. If you’re going to wish your Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah, wait until sundown.

  • If you want to wish your Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah, or in Hebrew, a “chag Chanukah sameach,” today, make sure to wait until sundown. Most Jewish holidays start at sundown and end at sundown. Meaning, Hanukkah does not really start until the sun sets. Don’t worry; you won’t have to wait long as tonight’s sunset in Havertown will take place at 4:36 pm.


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