Why do we celebrate Hanukkah?

A quick explanation of the history behind this forgotten holiday.


Zoe Siamon, Staff Writer

Every December, many families comes together to exchange gifts, sing festive songs, play fun games, and eat delicious food during an exciting holiday. No, I am not referring to Christmas, but the ever forgotten Hanukkah.

Everyone has heard of the classic “festival of lights,” 8 day celebration with candles and presents, but very few people know the history behind it. The holiday began at sunset on Dec. 12 this year, but that is not always when it starts.

The Hebrew calendar is different from our own, meaning that dates are subject to change every year. The holiday that starts on 25 Kislev, a month  that falls around November or December, changes every year. This is why you might hear about the “Jewish New Year.”

Hanukkah directly translates to dedication. The holiday celebrates the 8 days when the Temple was restored to the worship of God, during the revolt against the Seleucid Greeks. This directly relates to its namesake, because the Jews stayed to continue worship despite the hardships they endured.

The common story that is told is about Judah and The Maccabees. The legend tells of a miracle that occurred when a supply of oil meant to only last one night supplied the Maccabees for 8 nights, long enough to find more oil and revolt successfully.

Hanukkah, surprisingly enough, is not actually a major holiday in Judaism. The main reason it has gained so much popularity is due solely to its proximity to Christmas. The excitement of this holiday season has turned this minor holiday to, debatably, the most popular one.

Many traditions are associated with Hanukkah, some of which you may have heard of. Latkas, also known as potato pancakes, and jelly doughnuts are two common food that are enjoyed. These are both cooked in oil to celebrate the oil that saved the Maccabees. Gelt are little pieces of chocolate wrapped with gold tin to look like coins. These can be used in a game of dreidel. This game is a classic Hanukkah celebration, and is played by spinning the dreidel to win candy, money, or gelt.

Every family celebrates this special holiday a little differently. Freshman Allison Silas explain her favorite traditions, “We play dreidel using jelly beans. My mom always puts the presents by the fireplace a week or so before Hanukkah and my sister and I try to guess what things are.”

Freshman Cameron Levin said, “We always eat latkas on the first night and open gifts from the same family members. For example, we will open presents from our grandparents one night, and presents from out aunt and uncle another night.”

So, this holiday season, remember your Jewish friends too! Impress them with your knowledge of this special holiday, and maybe talk about the history behind the holiday you celebrate, if you celebrate any. Happy Holidays!