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Hanukkah Menorah


A Holiday Rich in Tradition

Holiday traditions vary greatly throughout the world based on religion and culture. The Jewish people celebrate a most significant holiday during the holiday season-Hanukkah. The traditions and decorations that belong to Hanukkah are highly symbolic. Hanukkah tradition states that the celebration is to begin every year on the 25th of the Hebrew month Kislev (in 2004, the first day of Hanukkah falls on December 8th). The tradition of Hanukkah commemorates the Jews' victory over the Syrian Greeks in 165 BCE. That victory can be credited to the Jewish revolutionaries called the Maccabees. In the process of restoring Jerusalem, they found their Temple desecrated and in ruins. In order to restore it, they needed to procure ritual oil for the Temple, but could only find one day's worth-eight days of oil was needed. But a miracle occurred that first Hanukkah. The Temple lamps burned for the full eight days so that the Temple could be rededicated. Hanukkah's decorations either emerged or were adapted from this event.

The Hanukkah Decoration of the Menorah

Appearing like a branched tree, the Menorah (sometimes called the "candelabrum") is a common Hanukkah decoration. In the ancient Jewish Temple, the Menorah had seven branches, but following the destruction of the Temple, Rabbis forbade the people's using an exact replica to preserve the Menorah's holiness. The replicas have nine branches with eight of the candles on one level and one candle at the end or in the middle and separated from the others. This candle is called the "Shamash" or servant candle and is used to light the other candles. According to Hanukkah tradition, on the first night of Hanukkah the first candle on the right is lit. On the second night of Hanukkah, the next candle to the left is lit, so now there are two. And so the process goes, right to left, one additional candle being lit each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. The candles are added from right to left and are lit left to right with the newest candle lit first. The Hanukkah decoration of the Menorah is placed in a window to "publicize the miracle." Blessings spoken in Hebrew are recited before the candles are lit, and worshipers during Hanukkah understand the importance of the Menorah's light not being extinguished.

The Hanukkah Tradition of Blessing the Candles

Here is the approximate English translation of the blessings for the candles at Hanukkah: " "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the light of Hanukkah." " "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who performed miracles for our fathers in those days, at this time." " "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life and sustenance and permitted us to reach this season."

The Hanukkah Decoration of the Dreidel

The Hanukkah Decoration of the Dreidel

The Hanukkah decoration of the Dreidel is one of the symbols most associated with Hanukkah and the Jewish children. However, the story of the Dreidel is one of safety. Too often in history, Jews were prohibited and persecuted for meeting and practicing their religion. When Jewish men would come together to study the Torah, they would have a Dreidel close by. Then when soldiers approached, the men would produce the Dreidel and pretend to be playing a game. Thus, the Dreidel saved many Jewish lives. Now a beloved Hanukkah decoration, the Dreidel is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters inscribed on each side, which allude to the miracle of Hanukkah. In America, the letters stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There." In Israel, the letters mean "A Great Miracle Happened Here." The Dreidel is both a Hanukkah decoration and a traditional game that is popular among children and adults--a joyous symbol of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Gelt

"Gelt" is a Yiddish term for "money." Giving gelt is an old and cherished custom, especially at Hanukkah. After the Temple was recaptured, Syria's King Antiochus VII declared to Simon the Maccabee: "I turn over to you the right to make your own stamp for coinage for your country." This ability of the Jewish people to mint their own coins was a profound victory that came as part of their independence. The subsequent coins portrayed the Menorah on one side and the Table of Shew Bread on the other, both symbols of the restored Temple. These designs may have been intended to remind the people of the miracle of Hanukkah. Today, Hanukkah gelt can be savings bonds, checks, or even small chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. Whatever a person's source of Hanukkah gelt, the tradition is always the same--put some of your abundance a "tzedakah" box and share your good fortune with the needy or for a worthy cause.

Hanukkah's Enduring Traditions and Decorations

The Hanukkah decorations that are associated with the celebration of Hanukkah have endured centuries of strife and conflict. As with any holiday decoration, symbolism and tradition run deep. Whether the Hanukkah decoration is the Menorah, the Dreidel or such delicious foods of the season--latkes, vegetables, fruits, potatoes, sufganiyot, and jelly doughnuts without the holes-each represents a Jewish tradition rich in history and hope for tomorrow.

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