Long ago, the land of Israel was ruled by the Greek Empire. The Greek king Antiochus IV forbid the Jewish people from practicing their religious beliefs and traditions. Antiochus IV even commanded that the Temple in Jerusalem, the most holy place in Judaism, be turned into a Temple to the Greek god Zeus. A group of Jews came together to fight for the freedom to practice their religion. These brave men were called Maccabees, and they battled for years against their Greek colonizers until they won freedom for the Jewish people in 165 BCE. Upon freeing the Jewish people, the Maccabees rededicated and restored the holy Temple to its original purpose. The word Hanukkah means “dedication” to honor that important moment in Jewish history and is also known as the Festival of Liights.
This year, Hanukkah began at sundown on Sunday, November 28, 2021, and lasts until sundown on Monday, December 6, 2021.
So, what about the menorah? Where does that come in?
Well, tradition says that when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple, they needed to relight the holy candelabra (or menorah). This menorah was never supposed to go out. The problem was that once they lit the candelabra, they realized there was only enough oil for the light to burn for one day. The miracle of Hanukkah is that this small portion of oil lasted for eight days until more oil could be procured.
Every Hanukkah, Jews worldwide light their own menorahs in celebration of the miracle of the oil. On each menorah, there is space for nine candles. One candle is called the shamash, or helper candle, and is used to light the other candles. The other eight candles represent the eight days of the miracle. Jews start the holiday by lighting one candle the first day and lighting an additional one each day until all eight candles are lit on the last day of the holiday. This increase from one candle to eight is a reminder that the miracle of the oil grew in awesomeness with each day that passed without the light going out.
And the dreidels and latkes and doughnuts?
Both latkes and doughnuts are fried in oil. The abundance of oil used to fry these foods is another way to bring people back into the story of the holiday. Plus, all holidays need tasty traditional foods!
The game of dreidel involves a four-sided top with four Hebrew letters on it. The dreidel is used in a fun family gambling game. Traditionally people play dreidel with nuts or chocolate coins called gelt. The four letters have double meanings. They spell out the first letters of the phrase, “A Great Miracle Happen There,” and also each is associated with a different action for the game.
Downtown Appleton shared directions to play dreidel as part of Light Up Appleton, celebrating lights as part of celebrations and festivities in many traditions and cultures.
Hanukkah Book Recommendations
One of our family’s most treasured traditions during this season is reading – and rereading – our favorite holiday tales. These Hanukkah books are perfect for getting you in the holiday spirit!
- Hanukkah Bear by Eric Kimmel – Bubba Brayna, who cannot see well, has been frying up yummy potato latkes all day when a hungry bear follows the delicious smell to her front door. Bubba Brayna doesn’t realize her guest is a bear and warmly welcomes him in. Before you know it, the bear has happily eaten all her latkes and even tried a hand (or paw) at playing dreidel. This charming tale will (almost) make you wish you have a bear to celebrate with
- The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer – Can you imagine looking out your window one cold, snowy night and finding a parakeet there? On the eighth night of Hanukkah, David saw just that! He and his father quickly let the bird into their house and decided to name it Dreidel. The family put up posters and published notices in the newspaper to find Dreidel’s family, but had no success. Dreidel ended up becoming part of their family and they loved him for nine years. I don’t want to give too much away, but a Chanukkah miracle happens, and it turns out Dreidel is a perfect matchmak.
- Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel – Hershel is excited when he arrives in a village on the first night of Hanukkah. He can’t wait to light the candles on the menorah and eat crispy latkes. Unfortunately, Hershel finds the town quiet, cold, and dark. Evil goblins have prevented the whole town from celebrating. Hershel volunteers to face the terrible goblins. He must confront one a night for all eight nights of Chanukkah to defeat their power over the town. Kids love the creepy goblins in this tale, and your whole family will be cheering Hershel on as he frees the village to light their menorahs.
Hanukkah Project Ideas
Hanukkah Recipes to Try
Latkes and applesauce are a perfect pair. Latkes are fairly simple to prepare but beware, they might disappear as fast as you make them!
Sufganiyot are Israeli donuts and a delicious cross between a beignet and a jelly donut. If you’re up for a frying kitchen adventure you can fill these with anything your family likes to find inside of a donut.
We believe in the importance of creating a community of acceptance and inclusion through education and knowledge. If you would like to share information about traditions in your culture, send an email to editor@govalleykids