That age-old celebration of–wait–of what exactly? What even is Channukah? How many days is it again? What do you do? For god’s sake, how do you even play dreidel? I’m sorry, what? What the heck is sufganiyot?
Allow me to shed some light on the subject! This year, I’ve gotten a ton of questions about Channukah, which is understandable if you’re not Jewish, but I feel like I’ve even been getting some questions about things that I thought everyone knew. So here, for your enjoyment and educational purposes, are some FAQs and some not so FAQs. Consider your Channukah questions answered!
Q: What is Channukah?
A: Channukah, loosely translated, means “festival of light”. It is a Jewish holiday celebrating the miracle of the Jewish people surviving because of a little lamp of oil. But more on that later.
Q: Why do we celebrate Channukah?
A: If you want the full story, check out this link: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/102978/jewish/The-Story-of-Chanukah.htm. Here’s the long story short: 2000 years ago, Israel was in control of the Syrians. Throughout many years and many rulers, they ended up very oppressed. They were not allowed to practice Judaism or study the Torah. A group called the Maccabees was formed to fight for the Jews. Antiochus, the king at the time, sent a much larger army to destroy the Maccabees, and in an epic battle, yada yada yada, the Maccabees won! They returned to Jerusalem to liberate it and clear the temple of idols placed there by the Syrians. They made a crude menorah out of metal but only found a small lamp of oil to light it with. Here comes the part you probably know–it was only enough to last one night, but it burned for eight! It was a miracle! Supposedly, God had protected the Jewish people, so a holiday was born.
Q: How many days/nights is Channukah?
A: Eight! Remember that whole oil thing? Told you it would be important.
Q: What do you do on Channukah?
A: We light candles on the menorah (adding one for each night), exchange presents, play dreidel, eat latkes and other yummy foods, and be generally merry.
Q: What is dreidel and how do you play it?
A: Dreidels are little spinning tops. We play dreidel on Channukah because when the Jews were oppressed, they would study the Torah in secret. Whenever officials would walk by, they took out the little spinning tops to make it look like they were playing with those instead of practicing Judaism. A dreidel has four sides, each with a Hebrew letter on it. The letter are nun, gimel, hay, and shin, which is actually an acronym for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” meaning “A Great Miracle Happened There”. This is in reference to the whole miracle of Channukah thing. Each letter also corresponds to an action in the game. When playing dreidel, place a large pile of candies (traditionally gelt) in the middle and give a few to each player. Take turns spinning the dreidel. If it lands on:
Nun: do nothing
Gimel: winner, winner, chicken dinner–take all the gelt!
Hay: take half the pile of gelt.
Shin: put one of your pieces of gelt back into the pile.
When playing dreidel, remember that it can finish rather quickly. Feel free to play as many times as you wish before feasting on gelt.
Q: What are the Channukah foods?
A: Excellent question!
Latkes: potato pancakes eaten because they are fried in oil (remember the story?). Think hashbrowns meets dinner food. They’re delicious and traditionally eaten with sour cream or applesauce.
Gelt: those chocolate coins you use for dreidel. You’ve seen them at the store–they come in little yellow nets?
Sufganiyot: fancy Hebrew name for jelly doughnuts eaten because, once again, they are fried in oil.
Q: What is a menorah?
A: A menorah, or chanukiah, is a candelabra-type thing lit on Channukah. It has nine branches/candle-holders, as opposed to early menorahs in the temple as symbols which had seven branches. A menorah has places for eight candles for the eight days as well as an additional spot for the shamash or “helper” candle. You use the shamash to light the other candle. The shamas’ spot is in the center or on the side and is usually a bit higher than the other candles. After lighting the menorah, you do not blow out the candles, but let them burn all the way down until the flame goes out.
I hope this has been sufficiently helpful for any of you curious ones! f you have any more questions, comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Submitted with undying love for,
Channukah, latkes, gelt, being Jew-ish, and informing people,
I remain Madilyn Jayne Turken