Lifestyle & Belief

Happy Hanukkah! Shedding light on 'Christmas for Jews'


Hanukah in Berlin, Germany.


Adam Berry

Hanukkah, the eight-day long Jewish festival that falls in December of the secular calendar, begins Saturday at sundown.

However, while many Jews are gathering around their menorahs to light the first candle, exchange gifts, eat latkes, and play dreidel, confusion remains. What is Hanukkah actually about, anyway?

As the New York Times pointed out, there is a healthy dose of confusion surrounding Hanukkah, a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish faith that is mentioned only briefly in the religion's texts.

Though the holiday of lights is one of the most widely observed in the United States, "unlike Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover (or even the lesser-known Sukkot and Shavuot), all of which are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, Hanukkah gets only a brief, sketchy reference in the Talmud, the voluminous collection of Jewish oral law and tradition written down hundreds of years after the Maccabees’ revolt," wrote the Times' Hilary Leila Krieger. 

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In actuality, Hanukkah celebrates the 2,200-year-old victory of the Jewish people against a Syrian dynasty seeking to limit their religious practices, explained columnist Paul Greenberg in the Wisconsin State Journal, adding that the battle was "something of a civil war between those Jews who proposed to adopt more of the then-fashionable Greek culture and those who rejected it." 

The menorah — the eight-pronged candelabra lit each night of Hanukkah — symbolizes the miracle of one dose of ritual olive oil found in the temple in Jerusalem lasting eight days once it was retaken by Jewish soldiers called the Maccabees, explained.  

Due to its elbow-rubbing with Christmas, the holiday has morphed from a celebration of war to a festival of light, joy, peace, and naturally, eating. 

The gift-giving, another byproduct of the much-more prominent Christian holiday, only adds to the befuddlement. But some Jews like it that way, according to the Wall Street Journal

“Some might say we’re an overanalyzing people, but I think that’s a positive thing” when it comes to Hanukkah, Jeremy Cowan, the head of kosher craft brewery Shmaltz Brewing Company, told the Journal. “It leaves room for your own way to celebrate.”

How are you celebrating this holiday season? Let us know in the comments. 

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[View the story "Hanukkah begins; jokes and good wishes abound on Twitter" on Storify]