Chanukah is a Rabbinic Jewish celebration, commencing on the Hebrew (lunar) date of 25th Kislev (typically in December, but sometimes late November or early January) for eight days. Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks in 165 BCE (or 2178 years ago). At that time, the Greeks profaned the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem and only one sealed bottle of pure olive oil was found. It would normally have burned in the Temple for only one day and a week’s supply of non-profaned oil was required until a new pure batch could be manufactured. Judah the Maccabee rededicated the Temple and the one oil bottle contents miraculously burned for eight days. The story of Chanukah appears in the Apocryphal books Maccabees I and Maccabees II. Chanukah means dedication, and we remember the rededication of the Temple. On Chanukah, being a Rabbinic festival, we are permitted to work, drive etc., yet we recite festival Psalms (Hallel).
We celebrate by lighting candles for eight days after nightfall, starting with one and increasing by one daily. The candles, whether of wax or olive oil, are housed in a Menorah and should burn for at least thirty minutes. The blessings and two songs sung after the candle lighting can be found in most prayer books (siddurim) and online at:
It is tradition not to work during at least the first half hour that the candles are burning, so this time is spent singing and optionally playing dreidel – a four-sided spinning top with four letters, one on each side. The letters are in Hebrew (standing for A big miracle happened here/there =Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, that is nun- for nothing, Gimmel= all, Hay for half and Peh for donate one). One typically plays with sweets or coins. Say, everyone places two sweets in the bank/kitty and the first person spins the dreidel. If it falls on gimmel, then they take all the sweets and everyone puts another two in the bank/kitty. The next person takes his/her turn and so it goes on “ad latkes/donuts are ready“.
We commemorate the Chanukah miracle by lighting the candles and eating oil-containing foods to remind us of the oil of the miracle. The foods we eat are, for example, potato pancakes (known also as latkes (Yiddish) and Levivot (Hebrew)). These are made by grating 2lb peeled potatoes, draining water therefrom in a sieve and adding salt and pepper to taste, adding 4 eggs, 1-2 cups matzo meal, mixing and forming flat pancakes by hand of about 1/3 inch thickness and two-four inches diameter. Thereafter fry on first side in oil in a frying pan, fry on second side and dry on paper towel. Then heat and eat. The latkes go well with sizzling sausages and coleslaw.
Another favorite oily food is doughnuts/donuts. Donut rings are of around 1 inch diameter cross section or sometime are 3-4 inch balls. These are deep-fried in oil. The ball-shaped doughnuts can be injected with jam/jelly. There are many coatings, glazings and chocolate icings, which can be added to make miraculously fattening donuts!
Some links to Chanukah blessings and songs appear below