We celebrate Chanukah in our house also known as the festival of lights. As a child growing up in a Jewish household we celebrated Chanukah with all the tradition trimmings, Latkes and Applesauce, Dreidels, menorahs but most of all FAMILY. The meaning in Hebrew means dedication or rededication.
Chanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.
Chanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. .
Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Hanukkah is not a religious holiday. The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammus (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The reason the candles are lit from left to right, because you pay honor to the newer thing first.
A question that I always get from friends is why the shammus candle? The Chanukkah candles are for pleasure only; we are not allowed to use them for any productive purpose. We keep an extra one around the shammus, so that if we need to do something useful with a candle, we don’t accidentally use the Chanukkah candles. The shammus candle is at a different height so that it is easily identified as the shammus.
It is traditional to eat fried foods on Chanukkah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. We make homemade Latkes and we enjoy donuts filled with Jelly, cream or just plain ole glazed. It is not a holiday to diet for sure.
Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top. A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin. The letters represent nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which are the rules of the game! Children can use M&M’s , nuts or gelt.
Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christians, as a way of dealing with our children’s jealousy of their Christian friends. It is extremely unusual for Jews to give Chanukkah gifts to anyone other than their own young children. The only traditional gift of the holiday is “gelt,” small amounts of money. We give token gifts to friends and family but our biggest gift is inviting our friends over to show our dedication to their friendship and to celebrate the miracle of the candles and the festival of lights.