Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that falls from the 10th to 18th December. It lasts for eight days and each day we light another candle on the Hanukiah (see photos).
Although the festival of Hanukkah isn’t explicitly mentioned in the bible, the story of Hanukkah derives its origins from a later date in the second century BCE. As the story goes, during this time the Jewish people were living under the rule of the Hellenist Greek empire. King Antiochus IV outlawed Jewish practice and took over the Jewish temple to use it as an altar to Zeus and a place to sacrifice pigs. The Maccabees, a small army of Jews, rose up and rebelled against him and against all odds, they were successful. As they finally regained control of their beloved temple, they realised that there was only enough oil to keep the Temple lamp going for one more day (it is supposed to never go out to symbolise the power and love of God). It would take eight days to get new oil but the miracle of Hanukkah is that this small bit of oil kept the lamp burning for all eight days until new oil arrived. This is the significance of the lights and keeping them lit for eight days.
A great Hannukah tradition is the game of dreidel, which is basically a gambling game. It is played with a spinning top and many chocolate coins, known as Hanukkah “gelt”. The game was designed by Jews who were secretly studying Torah and praying during the Hellenist period and they needed a quickly accessible game to pretend to be playing whenever the soldiers walked past.
Over the years (due to its proximity to Christmas), the festival has become one where people exchange gifts – some even lucky enough to get a present on each of the eight nights!
I have wonderful memories of celebrating this festival growing up, which was always full of laughter and noise and singing and chocolate which was much more carefree than some of the more serious festivals in the Jewish year.
My grandparents all played a huge role in making it so special and I can still taste their Hanukkah recipes to this day. There are two very special foods that no Hanukkah celebration would ever be complete without: latkes (potato cakes) and doughnuts. This is because both of these (delicious) foods are fried in a LOT of oil.
I always enjoy that Hanukkah falls close to Diwali and Christmas, both of which are festivals that celebrate light and joy, particularly in the multicultural hub of London. I enjoy that many people are enjoying this time of year in similar ways.