(photo credit: courtesy)
What’s not to like about the Festival of Lights? A time to sing….to
play….to clog your arteries with cooking oil. Whether you like your
latkes with apple sauce or sour cream, there’s much to celebrate for
eight days this December, so gather round and let’s learn about the
upcoming Jewish holiday.
RELATED:An idiot’s guide to Yom Kippur
What’s this celebration all about? In
168 BCE, the Syrian-Greek army gained control of the Jewish Temple. In
167 BCE, their king, Antiohus, declared that followers of Judaism would
be killed. And in 166 BCE, Jewish rebels known as the Maccabees decided
that two thousand years later, their descendants might need a reason to
make dorky YouTube videos.
control of their land, the Maccabees returned to the Temple to discover
that they only had enough oil to light the Temple’s ritual menorah
(candelabrum) for one day. To their surprise, it lasted eight. And to
this very day, we commemorate this miracle of the oil lasting eight days
by eating an inhuman amount of fried foods. The most popular oil-coated
delicacies are jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot
, primarily in Israel) and deep-fried potato pancakes (latkes
), which taste like pancakes in much the same way that cotton candy tastes like liquid mercury.
little history and culinary lesson should clarify that despite the
holiday’s close proximity to Christmas, the festivals really have
nothing in common. Although Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and
Hanukka begins on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, rather than
waiting for a fat man to visit, we Jews try to put on as much weight as
humanly possible. Furthermore, while many Jews in the United States give
gifts on these eight days, it's understood that this custom has
developed simply so that Jewish children will not feel left out during
Christmastime. (The Jewish holiday associated with gift-giving is
actually Purim, which usually falls in March and may explain why halfway
through the month, left-out Catholics are so eager to give each other
the gift of green beer.)
To mark these eight festive days, Jews light a special menorah known as a hanukkia
first night we light one candle, the second night two, and so on. Each
candle is lit from a separate candle called the shamash
whose job is illumination, as using the ritual candles for light is forbidden. The shamash
sits apart or above the others, which can occasionally lead to issues
of jealousy, petty name calling, and online candle bullying.
Now that we’ve lit the candles and sung joyful songs, let’s have some fun. It's tradition for young children to play with a dreidel
a four-sided top with letters on each side, each one corresponding to
an amount of goodies the spinner will win or lose, based on how the dreidel
lands. The main lessons to take from this are, one, that Hanukka is a
happy occasion, and two, that gambling should begin at a young age.
FYI: While many Diaspora Jews have a strong connection to Hanukka, it
is not considered a major religious holiday in Judaism. Unlike on
Shabbat, celebrants are not commanded to rest, which is ironic
considering that the large number of doughnuts might induce a food coma.
However you plan to celebrate, spin that dreidel
loud and spin it proud.Benji Lovitt is a stand-up comedian and writer.