Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights
Hanukkah is an eight-day religious holiday celebrated by people of the Jewish faith. Each year in mid-December, Jews all over the world celebrate the Festival of Lights, which commemorates a Jewish victory over the Syrians 2,000 years ago. In 165 B.C., when the Jews came to rededicate the Temple they had reclaimed, they found only one small flask of oil with which to light their Menorah, or lamp. This flask contained enough oil to last for just one day, yet the lamp burned for eight days, the same exact amount of time it takes to completely prepare the sacred oil for a new ceremony. This is considered the miracle of Hanukkah.
During the festival of Hanukkah, menorahs are lit for eight days to commemorate each night the original lamp burned. There are nine candles on the menorah, one for each night and one in the center, which is used to light the others. Each evening, families gather at nightfall to rekindle menorah flames, rededicate themselves to their faith, and to share in the festive meals. Blessings are sung as the candles are lit.
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter inscribed on each side, which together translate to “A great miracle happened here.” During the dreidel game, each player receives a given number of coins or candy pieces. Before spinning, each player puts a fixed amount into the “kupah” or kitty. Each player in turn spins the dreidel, which will fall on one of the four letters. Depending on the letter, one of the following will happen: Nun (no win/lose), Gimmel (take all), Heh (take half), and Peh or Shin (lose). The game continues until players have run out of funds and one is declared the winner.
The most popular theme throughout the preparing of Hanukkah dishes is the use of oil. Latkes are potato pancakes made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, and fried in vegetable oil. The texture is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. These delightful treats of the season are and served hot and are often dipped in applesauce or sour cream.
Sufganiyot are doughnuts without the hole, made from dough that’s dropped into hot oil without being shaped. They come out in odd, funny shapes and are then covered in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyot are very popular in Israel, where they are sold on street stands more than a month before Hanukkah begins.