Hanukkah or Festival of Light is celebrated by the Hebrew people for 8 days, in December. Hanukkah in Hebrew means "dedication" and commemorates the Jewish victory Macabees (which translates as 'men are stronger than the sledge'), led by Judah Maccabee against Syrian Greeks in 165 BC. Legend says that when Judah and his men liberated Jerusalem, the first thing they did was to open the Hebrew temple again, but when they got there, they have not found anything from the past tradition; the temple was changed into a of temple for the Greeks to pray to their gods. The Jews cleaned the house and wanted to light the Menorah again, the holy lamp, but they have found only a small bowl with oil, which would have been enough to burn the lamp for one day only. They lit the lamp and like a miracle, the lamp lit for eight days. It is miracle that Jews from everywhere celebrate it now.
The most important object used to Hanukkah is Menorah, the candlestick with eight arms, four on the left side and four on the right, and in their midst, upper than all, is the Shamash, the holy candle.
They say the first Menorah was carved into one piece of gold and had seven branches, representing the days of week. That Menorah was lit daily by a Kohen, a Jews monk. After the eight-day miracle, the Jews changed the form of Menorah, transforming it into a candlestick with eight arms and holy lamp.
To lit the Menorah there can be used oil or candles. If they are not fully used, candles are kept, it is forbidden to use for other purposes. On the first night of Hanukkah, after lighting Shamash, one needs to say three prayers.
Also, after lighting each of the candles and saying prayers, it is usual that some family members sing some songs, a sort of Christmas carols, of which the best known are "Rock of time" (Maoz Tzur) - where it is said about how often God saved the Hebrew people from destruction, and "holy Light" song that glorifies God who realized miracles and wonders.
Every day of Hanukkah it is customary to give children small gifts, such as coins, candies, peanuts or walnuts.
In recent decades, however, because of the strong influence of Santa Claus, most Jews, especially those in Western countries, initiated the "gift tradition" for children so that they do not feel frustrated that their friends who are not Hebrew receive gifts from Santa. So today, many Hebrew children consider Hanukkah a kind of Santa Claus.
During the eight days of Hanukkah, Jews tend to eat fried dishes. The most popular specialties are: potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly donuts (sufganiot).
By Maria Morari
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