Today, to commemorate this triumph over the Greeks, Jewish families and friends come together to light the Chanukah (an 8 branched candelabrum) and show the world that despite all the attempts to annihilate the Jewish people, they still shine bright and proud today. And like most Jewish festivals, there is a bunch of scrumptious traditional food to go with it.
Chanukah, or the ‘festival of lights’ is a Jewish holiday celebrating the victory of the Maccabees (a small Jewish army) against the Greeks in the second century BCE. The story takes place in modern day Israel and starts with the Greeks ruling over the Jewish people who lived there at the time. The Jewish people were forced to adopt Greek beliefs or risked death, and so had to practice their Judaism in hiding.
Because in the Chanukah story the Jewish people were not allowed to observe or study Judaism openly, they came up with a tactic to avoid getting caught. The Jewish people would hide in caves learning and studying together, but when the Greeks came close, the Jewish people would hide their books and pretend they were playing dreidel.
Today a dreidel looks like a spinning top with Hebrew letters on all 4 sides- an acronym for ‘a great miracle happened here’ – referring to the wider Chanukah story. People take turns to spin the dreidel and either win or lose chocolate coins depending on the letter they land on!
Once the Maccabees had won and the Greeks had retreated, the Jewish people returned to their temple to find it completely destroyed. The Greeks had wrecked everything expect for the menorah – a seven-branched candelabrum used as a symbol for the Jewish nation. The menorah was always alight but was only allowed to be lit using a sealed vessel of olive oil. the Jews searched high and low for some oil but all the vessels they found had been broken!
After a while, the Jews found one vessel – enough for one of the seven branches. It took 7 days for the Jewish people to get the olive oil from the North of Israel meaning that after one night, the menorah would not shine at all. However, the one vessel found in the rubble shone for 8 nights- coining this the miracle of Chanukah!
To celebrate this miracle, Jewish people traditionally eat oily foods on Chanukah – including doughnuts. Families, schools, and synagogues flock to bakeries to buy as many doughnuts as possible. Despite all the adventurous chocolate lathered, caramel packed doughnuts available, the ultimate favourite for most people is the classic sugar-coated jam doughnut, mmm. And the most important rule of Chanukah is – there is no such thing as too many doughnuts!
Latkes are another traditional treat honouring the miracle of the oil. Latkes are a potato pancake made from grated potato and onion and fried in lots and lots of sizzling oil. Although not the healthiest of meals, lots of people like to extend the oil tradition by enjoying their latkes with fried fish or schnitzel; and it goes without saying, all this is always followed by a doughnut.
In the cold and gloomy December evenings, nothing is more magical than getting together with your nearest and dearest to celebrate the marvels of the past by eating an array of delicious treats. Chanukah is a celebration which brings light to darkness, reminding everyone to be proud of who they are and not to change for anyone!
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