Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And it starts in just two days! The story goes that Antiochus IV, the Greek-Syrian ruler, imposed Greek culture on all his subjects and forbade Jews from practicing their most important religious customs. The Jews in the region rebelled and were victorious, but encountered a different problem: as they prepared the temple for rededication, they found enough purified oil to kindle the temple for only one night. Miraculously, the light continued burning for seven more than expected. Read on to learn 8 fun facts about the holiday—one for each night.
1. Fried food
In remembrance of the oil that burned in the temple, many traditional Hanukkah foods are fried. In fact, around 17.5 million Sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) are eaten in Israel during Hanukkah. That adds up to nearly 11 billion calories consumed! Sufganiyot and potato latkes are worldwide favorites. Look for a recipe in the magazine to make them both.
2. Study buddies
Back in the time of Antiochus, students secretly studied the Torah in groups. When Greek soldiers interrupted during raids, the students would quickly whip out dreidels and pretend to play a gambling game.
3. Hebrew language
Outside of Israel, each face of the dreidel has the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay, and shin, which stand for nes gadol haya sham (a great miracle happened there). In Israel, shin is replaced with the word pay (here).
4. Menorah or hanukkiyah?
The menorah is a seven-branched candelabra typically used in synagogues. The hanukkiyah is the familiar, nine-branched candelabra used during Hanukkah.
5. Candles in a box
Each box of Hanukkah candles contains at least 44 candles—enough to light the hanukkiyah every night and more!
6. Right, left, left, right
According to tradition, candles are placed on the hanukkiyah from right to left, which corresponds to the direction in which the Hebrew language is read. The candles are lit from left to right, however, since it is important to light the newest candles first.
7. Cooking, lighting, and cosmetics, oh my!
Olive oil was mostly likely the the first type of oil people used to light their candles. It was also used in cooking and cosmetics, but most importantly for purification.
It’s not traditional to give gifts during Hanukkah except for gelt (small amounts of money). Gift-giving has recently become more popular, especially in areas where Jewish families have more contact with people who celebrate Christmas.