The word “Hanukkah” comes from the Hebrew word for “dedication” or”consecration.” In Jewish tradition, it celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of the King of Syria Antiochus IV Epiphanes and commemorates the “miracle of the container of oil.”
According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.
The number eight also has specialsignificance in Jewish theology, representing transcendence and the Jewish people’s special role in human history. Seven is the number of days for creation, that is, of completion of the material cosmos, and also of the classical planets. Eight, being one step beyond seven, represents the Infinite.
Hence, the Eighth Day of the Assembly festival. Many families exchange gifts each night, and fried foods are eaten.
Hanukkah gained increased importance with many Jewish families in the latter half of the twentieth century. This included large numbers of secular Jews, who wanted a Jewish alternative to the Christmas celebrations that often overlap with Hanukkah. Though it was traditional among Ashkenazi Jews to give “gelt” or money coins to children during Hanukkah, in many families this has changed into gifts in order to prevent Jewish children from feeling left out of the Christmas gift giving.
Traditionally speaking, Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, as indicated by the lack of religious restrictions on work other than a few minutes after lighting the candles. But in North America, Hanukkah has taken a place equal to Passover as a symbol of Jewish identity. Both the Israeli and North American versions of Hanukkah emphasize resistance, focusing on some combination of national liberation and religious freedom as the defining meaning of the holiday.
There is a custom of eating foods fried or baked in oil (preferably olive oil) such as potato pancakes, known as latkes in Yiddish. Many Sephardic, Polish and Israeli families share the custom of eating all kinds of jam-filled doughnuts, bimuelos (fritters) and sufganiyot which are deep-fried in oil. They represent the original miracle of the discovery of a small flask of pure olive oil used by the Jewish High Priest, the Kohen Gadol. This small batch of olive oil was only supposed to last one day, and instead it lasted eight.
Children often play with a small four-sided spinning top called a Dreidel. The tradition of giving money (Chanukah gelt) to children is of long standing. Gelt, or “money” is often distributed to children to enhance their enjoyment of the holiday. The amount is usually in small coins, although grandparents or other relatives may give larger sums as an official Hanukkah gift. Twentieth-century American chocolatiers picked up on the gift/coin concept by creating chocolate gelt.
In Hebrew, the word Hanukkah is written חנֻכה or חנוכה . It is most commonly translated to English as Chanukah or Hanukkah. Either spelling, is acceptable.
Chanukah gift baskets can include a box of Chanukah candles, dreidels, chocolate coins, nuts, cookies, dried fruit and festive snacks. The majority of Jewish people do not keep Kosher, but if someone is not certain whether the recipient keeps Kosher or not, it’s safest to make sure that all of the products in the gift basket are Kosher. Colors associated with Hanukkah are usually silver and blue but can be any colors that you prefer. We like to use combinations such as magenta, blue, silver and gold.
This article was written by Pam Monroe, San Diego California, and was originally published in the digital magazine Gift Basket Business Insider.