Even if you’re not a member of the Jewish faith, chances are you’ve at least heard of this holiday. Not only is it celebrated by more than 13 million people each year, but it’s also been popularized in the media thanks to performances like Adam Sandler’s The Hanukkah Song. The good news is regardless of how much or little you know about this topic, if it’s something that interests you, we’re going to fill you in on all the details you should know.
The History of Hanukkah
Hanukkah, which in Hebrew is spelled Chanukah, is a word that means dedication. Back in the second century BCE, Antiochus wanted to pull Jews away from their religion so he could assimilate them into Greek culture. Because he was extremely serious about this goal, he outlawed everything related to the Jewish faith. And if anyone was caught breaking that law, they could be punished by death.
While plenty of people were intimidated into following this path, some Jews rebelled against the laws. After a war that raged on for three years, the underdog Jewish group was victorious in driving invaders out of Judea. Once they reclaimed their freedom, they went to Jerusalem. When they found that their Holy Temple was wrecked, they cleaned it all up. Then when they were ready to officially relight the Menorah, they could only find a single jar of the right oil.
Although they didn’t expect the light to last, they still lit the Menorah and were then amazed that it lasted for a full 8 days and nights. As a result, the modern Hanukkah holiday is now a celebration of this miracle, as well as the major victory that allowed the ancient Jewish population to reclaim their faith.
Are There Any Special Lighting Instructions?
Yes, when people celebrate Hanukkah, they do follow a specific protocol for lighting the menorah throughout this holiday. To begin with, it’s considered good practice for all the candles on the menorah to be in a straight line and at the same height. In terms of where to place a lit menorah, the two most recommended are outside a door or in a window that prominently faces the area outside.
When night comes during each day of Hanukkah, the total number of candles for the current day are added to the right side of the menorah and then lit. The procedure for doing this is to light the helper candle (known as a Shamash), recite the standard Hanukkah blessings and then light all of the candles for that day from left to right. Once lit, the candles should be allowed to burn for at least thirty minutes.
While this is a process that’s gone through at night, the one exception to that rule is on the Friday that occurs during the course of this holiday, the candles should be lit eighteen minutes prior to the sun going down.
Is It Appropriate to Give Gifts?
Although it’s by no means a requirement, if you’re dating someone who’s Jewish, have a colleague who practices this religion or are close to a member of the Jewish faith for any other reason, it is a nice gesture to give someone a gift. Since it always feels good to give a gift that someone truly enjoys, we’ve got a few pointers for making that happen.
When it comes to the gift itself, there’s nothing wrong with opting for something along the lines of a gift card. However, if you want to give something that’s more personalized in nature, the good news is it’s quite easy to look at Jewish gifts online. A hanging wall ornament, piece of Jewish jewelry or olive wood candlesticks are just a few examples of items that make excellent Hanukkah gifts.
In terms of wrapping the gift, since the official colors of Hanukkah are blue and white, steer clear of bags or wrapping paper that feature typical Christmas designs in red and green. And as far as exactly when to give the gift, any time during the eight day window is completely fine.
Now that you know all the basics of Hanukkah, the last thing to be aware of is when the holiday occurs. Since the dates change each year, it’s useful to mark them down on your calendar. In 2013, Hanukkah will begin on November 27th and end on December 5th. And in 2014, it will occur from December 16th to December 24th.
Jennifer McKay has been a professional writer for nine years. While she’s covered a wide variety of topics, she’s currently focused on becoming a food critic.