The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah or Hanukah) began on sundown on December 2 of this year and will continue until sundown on the 10th. Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” the holiday celebrates the reclaiming of the holy Temple by the Jewish Maccabee rebels from King Antiochus IV Epiphanes around 160 BCE.
According to the traditional Hanukkah story, the Jewish community purified their reclaimed Temple by lighting candles on a menorah. Although there was only enough oil to burn for one day, it miraculously burned for eight days and eight nights. Therefore, Hanukkah is celebrated for the same length of time, and a Hanukkah menorah is lit with eight candles symbolizing the eight days of oil. (A ninth candle is used to light the other eight.) Each night, one additional candle is added, until on the final night all candles are lit.
Also symbolizing the miracle of the oil, Jews celebrate Hanukkah by frying potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly-filled donuts (sufganiyot) in oil. Spinning a driedel (four-sided top) is a popular children’s game at Hanukkah. Many families exchange gifts, sing songs, decorate their homes, and celebrate with friends during the eight-day holiday.
Learning about each other’s holidays is a good way to nurture interfaith friendships. In URI Cooperation Circles around the world, many members are celebrating Hanukkah along with their Jewish friends this week.