Hanukkah Highlights


Photo by Len Radin

A menorah has been lit for Hanukkah

Everyone knows that Hanukkah is a Jewish winter holiday. However, do we really know what it is all about? In elementary school you probably remember making a little paper menorah for your culture lesson and being told a story about how the oil for the light lasted for eight days when it should have only lasted for one. When I interviewed Sadie Powell, a senior at Bingham high school who celebrates Hanukkah, I was surprised to learn that there was way more to the story than what we are taught in elementary school. 

So, what is the whole story behind Hanukkah? According to “What is Hanukkah”, an official Jewish website, this is the story of Hanukkah.

Around 2000 BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by Seleucids. The Seleucids were trying to force all of Israel to follow Greek culture and beliefs. Mitzvah is a set of rules or commandments that the Jewish follow. People were no longer allowed to observe mitzvah, or even believe in God. 

Even though they were completely outnumbered, and poorly armed, Judah the Macabee was planning a rebellion. A small group of faithful Jews gathered together to plan their attack. Powell added that in order to not get caught, they would disguise the meetings as gambling sessions. This is why dreidel is played during the Hanukkah celebration. 

When they had prepared a plan, Judah led the faithful group to battle. Together they defeated one of the strongest armies on earth at that time. Once the Greeks were driven out of Israel, the Jews reclaimed their temple and rededicated it to God. When they were ready to light the temple’s menorah, it was found that only one cruse of oil had survived the battle. A cruse is a small pot that holds enough oil to last one day. However, it took eight days to receive and then prepare more oil in ritual purity. The Jews prayed, and with their faith the oil lasted for the whole eight days until more oil was obtained. Now the Jewish celebrate every year by lighting a candle for each day the oil lasts, rejoicing in the miracle. 

So what does a modern day Hanukkah celebration look like? Powell shared some of her favorite foods and traditions. “All of the food is awesome,” she said. Her absolute favorite food is the latkes, a fried potato pancake. She loves that the whole holiday is “a celebration of oil.” Powell shares that her “favorite tradition is that we kind of just celebrate on one day, rather than all eight, because my family can only all come over for one day. So that day is like the special day. To be honest I don’t want to see my whole extended family for eight days because that’s a lot.” 

Powell’s family plays the traditional game dreidel. Her family bets “with either gelt, which is like chocolate coins, or chocolate truffles. Because gelt is cheap, we usually give it to the kids, and keep the good stuff [chocolate truffles] for ourselves.” At the end of the game you keep the chocolates you have won. 

Powell celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah. “It’s great, I get the best of both worlds!” Some people believe that it isn’t fair that Christmas gets a break from school but Hanukkah doesn’t. Powell doesn’t mind: “It is what it is,” she states. 

Powell says the very best part of Hanukkah that most people don’t know is that “Jewish people know how to party…when I have friends join us for Hanukkah, they always leave surprised at how much fun it actually is.”