Food & Dining

What is Hanukkah?

by Bradley Hartsell

Many people think of Hanukkah as the “Jewish Christmas,” but any Jewish person, like Newnan’s Mike and Debbie Kam, will tell you that isn’t true.

Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, is an eight-day Jewish holiday observing the rededication of the Second Temple. The Temple was seized and rededicated by the Maccabees in a revolt against the Seleucid Empire, which had defiled the temple.

The miracle of Hanukkah is that a single container of ritual oil was found undisturbed, enough to last only a day. The oil, though, burned for eight days, which was the time it took to have new oil prepared.

To celebrate, Jewish culture lights a menorah each night of Hanukkah. The Hanukkah menorah has nine lamps, with the middle and tallest lamp serving to light the other eight on the respective days of Hanukkah.

Jewish families light a menorah and honor the ancient traditions each evening. Jewish holidays actually start and end at sundown, so the evening of Nov. 27 is the start of Hanukkah, but the first full day in 2013 is also Thanksgiving.

For the remaining days of Hanukkah, families still work and go to school.

“It’s a joyous holiday, but it’s not a religious holiday,” explained Debbie Kam. “We continue daily activities, except the evening of lighting and blessing.”

Kam admits Hanukkah has had to compete with Christmas over the years, though Kam says Hanukkah is a deeply-personal holiday and each family develops its own traditions. Most Jewish families give small gifts each night, things like toothbrushes and socks. One night, though, is reserved for splashier gifts.

“Your kids can’t go to school and say, ‘I got socks for Hanukkah,’” explained Kam. So to keep up, Jewish families will participate in the Christmas spirit of giving expensive gifts during the holiday.

Hanukkah, of course, has nothing to do with Christmas, other than the 25th day of Kislev usually runs closer to Christmas than it does Thanksgiving. Christian culture typically holds Christmas as its most sacred holiday. In Jewish faith, Yom Kippur is actually the holiest day, a day of atonement and reconciliation.

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