If you missed the first part of our introduction to Chanukah, which officially began on the evening of December 15, then you can quickly find part one through this link.
The Chanukah Menorah
Chanukah is a family feast that lasts eight days. The most important Chanukah tradition is the lighting of the menorah, known in Hebrew as the "hanukiya." A menorah is a candle-stand with nine branches. Eight candles, one for each day of Chanukah, are situated on each side of a taller candle in the middle. The taller candle, the shamash (“servant,”) is used to light the other candles.The menorah is lit after dusk, lighting the first candle on the right, then kindling an additional candle, moving from left to right each evening. As each candle is lit, special blessings are recited. Part of the Chanukah tradition also involves the giving small gifts each night of the festival.
The Chanukah toy called a dreidel, has become a favorite toy of Jewish children. But throughout history, it used to have a very serious purpose. When the Syrians forbid the study of the Torah, the Jewish holy book, Jews who continued to study in secret, kept spinning tops called "sivivons," or dreidels. That way, if they were caught studying, they could quickly pretend that they had only been playing a game.
Outside of Israel, a dreidel has the Hebrew letters “nun,” “gimel,” “hay,” and “shin” on its four sides. These letters stand for “Nes gadol haya sham,” which means, “A great miracle happened there,” referring to Israel. An Israeli dreidel has the letter “pay” rather than “shin.” This stands for “poh,” meaning “here” .... “a great miracle happened here.”
The Hebrew letters also represent Yiddish words that tell how to play the dreidel game. Each player starts with the same amount of candies, chocolate coins called "gelt," (other tokens can be used,) and puts one token into a pot. Players take turns spinning the dreidel, waiting to see which letter lands face up.
Nun is for “nisht,” meaning, "nothing" ... "do nothing." Gimel is for “gants,” which means, "whole," .... "take the whole pot." Hay is for “halb,” which means, "half," .... "take half." Shin is for “shtel,” meaning, "to put in," .... "add to the pot." The game ends when a single player wins all the tokens.
On of the most well-known of the Chanukah is the "latkes," or potato pancakes, that are cooked in oil. The serving of latkes during Chanukah is a custom that more than likely developed in Eastern Europe. In Israel, the favorite Chanukah food is "sufganiya," a kind of jelly donut cooked in oil. In fact, many of the traditional foods served during Chanukah are cooked in oil, in remembrance of the oil that burned in the temple.
Another Chanukah tradition is the eating of dairy products, especially cheese delicacies. This custom signifies the remembrance of the Jewish heroine Judith, who according to legend, saved her village from Syrian attackers by feeding wine and cheese to the Syrian general Holofernes. According to the story, when the general became drunk, she killed him, which caused his troops to flee.
To Learn More About the History, Customs and Traditions of Chanukah
Visit what is called the world's largest Chanukah website. This site has games, stories, recipes, Kabbalah Insights, and a lot more of interest. Visit the Chanukah site through this link.