Jewish families like mine are scrambling to get ready for Channukah, the festival of lights. There are presents to buy, latkes to fry and menorahs to polish. Although Channukah is a favorite holiday of my people, and gets a good deal of mainstream attention, there is still some confusion about this eight-day celebration.
Why is it eight days?
Is this the “Jewish Christmas?”
Who’s this “Maccabee” guy?
To shine a light on this Jewish festival, here are the top eight things to know about Channukah
8. There is no “right” way to spell Channukah.
Channukah is a Hebrew word, so the English spelling that I am using in this article just happens to be my preferred version. Other ones you may have seen include Hanukah, Chanuka, and Hannuka. Hell, you could spell it like this, Chanooka, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
7. Channukah has nothing to do with Christmas.
Other than the exchange of gifts (which is a custom that has evolved over time and has been eschewed by many Jews), Channukah’s closest similarity to Christmas is its occurrence (usually) in the month of December. Please do not refer to Channukah as Jewish Christmas.
6. We celebrate Channukah on a different week every year.
Judaism follows a lunar calendar for its holidays, which means the corresponding date on the solar calendar changes every year. Channukah can begin as early as late November to well it the end of December. This year, the holiday starts after sundown on December 2.
5. Latkes are awesome. Sufganiot are ok.
Latkes (fried potato pancakes) are far superior than jelly doughnuts. This is not up for debate.
4. Speaking of food …
We eat latkes and sufganiot because the oil used to prepare them reminds us of the oil used to light the menorah which miraculously stayed lit for eight days.
3. Judah Maccabee, the star of the Channukah story, is pretty bad-ass.
Judah earned his last name, “Maccabee,” meaning hammer, for his skills on the battlefield. He lead the revolt against the Hellenistic rulers of Israel, and restored the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem to its holy state.
2. We celebrate Channukah for eight nights to commemorate the miracle that happened on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 164 BCE (Before the Common Era).
On that day, it is believed that only one day’s worth of oil was left to light the menorah, or seven-branched candelabra, which was an important fixture of the holy temple. The oil, we are told, lasted for eight days, and so, to this day we observe Channukah by lighting a special eight-branched menorah, or channukiah, for eight nights during Kislev.
1. Channukah is a minor holiday in terms of religious importance, but is by far the most popular.
Unlike Passover, Yom Kippur and other major observances, Channukah requires very little on the part of the Jewish people. There is no obligation to forgo work, no dietary restrictions and no major changes required to daily living. Perhaps the ease in which the holiday can be celebrated, the joy it brings to so many families, and, yes, its proximity to Christmas, explain why it has turned into my people’s biggest holiday. Whatever the reason, Channukah is eight nights of fun, and we love it!
I hope you enjoyed my “top eight list.” To my Jewish readers, have a happy Channukah and may it fill you with lots of joy.