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Chanukah steeped in family traditions

By James Bright
On December 2, 2010

The holidays are a time in which people of many faiths and races celebrate for a variety of reasons. It is important to remember that Christmas is not the only holiday during this time period. Those of Jewish faith celebrate the festival of lights called Chanukah.

Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated in a family friendly manner, but the history of this festival is actually rooted in violence. sets the origins of the holiday at 135 B.C. when the Jewish people, who were under Greek rule, were persecuted for worshiping God. The Greeks bent a little bit over time and allowed the Jews to worship as long as they also worshiped Greek gods.

As this practice was a violation of Jewish law, a priest named Mattathias organized a revolt. He, his son Judas Macabee and a small band of Jews fought and won many battles against the Greeks despite overwhelming odds.

During this time, there was one significant win – the reclamation of the Temple Mount. The rest of the country, including Jerusalem, was still under Greek rule during this time. The day the temple was reclaimed, a group of Jews cleaned and purified the temple as their holy canon, the Torah, commanded. They performed an eight-day rededication ceremony from which the name Chanukah, which means dedication in Hebrew, is derived.

One of the ceremonies required in the Torah was to light the temple menorah each morning. There was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the group found another container of oil that had not existed before. Although this new container only had enough oil for one day, the candles lit from this container burned for eight days straight, thus satisfying the Torah's command for the rededication ceremony. This is where the holiday's timeframe and name come from.

The celebration now last eight days and falls on a different set of dates every year to coincide with the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. This year, the holiday runs from Dec. 1 to Dec. 9. During this time, candles are placed on a holder called a menorah. There are nine holders on the menorah and one candle is added and lit for each night of the holiday. The middle holder, which typically sits higher than the other eight, is lit every night.

In addition to lighting the menorah, games are played and gifts are given. A four-sided top called a dreidel is spun in a sort of betting game. Each side of the top contains a different Hebrew letter corresponding to some amount that is gained or lost in the game. Children typically use chocolate coins wrapped in golden foil called gelt as their currency for the game.

According to, although most Chanukah traditions are family oriented, the holiday still serves as an important reminder of the value of Jewish determination during a time of religious persecution.

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