Hanukkah 2017: Five facts you didn't know about the Festival of Lights

This year Hanukkah takes place between the 12 and 20 December

Alexandra Sims
Friday 04 December 2015 18:30
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Candles are lit during the festival of Hanukkah
Candles are lit during the festival of Hanukkah

Jews across the world will spend eight days celebrating Hanukkah, or the Jewish Festival of Lights this month.

Between the 12 and 20 December millions of candles will be lit in a menorah to commemorate the Jewish people’s struggle for religious freedom.

Here are five facts you may not know about the festival:

1. Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible

Unlike other major Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Instead, its origins can be traced back to the mid-second century BCE.

During this time a Syrian king tried to make the Jewish people worship Greek gods. However, a small group of Jews called the Maccabees rebelled and eventually recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians after a three year war.

During the battle their temple was destroyed and after building it again the people rededicated it to God by lighting a lamp.

Only one small jar of oil was found to be burnt, enough for one day, but miraculously the lamp stayed alight for eight days and Hanukkah celebrates this miracle.

Fesh oil-fried doughnuts called sufganiyot in Hebrew Getty

2. Hanukkah means eating doughnuts

To commemorate the miracle of the burning lamp, Jews customarily eat foods fried in oil and this means doughnuts.

Sufganiyot is a round deep-fried doughnut filled with jelly or custard and topped with powdered sugar. It is served at meals throughout the holiday.

3. Chocolate coins

Chocolate coins or gelt (Yiddish for money) wrapped in gold and silver are exchanged at Hanukkah.

The origin of Hanukkah gelt is unclear, however coins are believed to be a symbol of the independence ancient Jews gained after their three year battle with Syria when they were able to make their own coins.

A Dreidel is spun as part of a competition during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah Getty

4. Spinning the Dreidel

Gelt is also used in a game played with a spinning top called a dreidel at Hanukkah.

Players sit in a circle and put a chocolate coin in the middle. Each person takes a turn at spinning the cube-shaped dreidel, which has a Hebrew letter on each side.

The letter the dreidel shows when it has finished spinning determines whether players win or loose the coins.

Children also traditionally sing a song called I Have a Little Dreidel during the celebrations.

5) Exchanging gifts

Traditionally Jews only exchanged gifts on Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by a young woman called Esther.

However, when Christmas became more prominent in the late 19th century and the Christian holiday’s consumerism grew, the Jewish custom shifted in imitation of Christmas.

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