Eight days of Hanukkah now under way!
Our family just celebrated the first night of Hanukkah on Friday. The origins of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, are an event that happened over 2,000 years ago. A king named Antiochus attempted to have all Jewish people under his reign follow the Greek religion. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, there was a rebellion.
After three years of fighting, the Maccabees drove the Greek soldiers away. The Maccabees wanted to rededicate the temple, but were only able to find enough oil for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days; long enough to make new oil. That's the miracle celebrated each year during Hanukkah.
On the first night of Hanukkah, I went to the synagogue with my family including my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to celebrate. We sang songs like " O Hanukkah, O Hanukkah" and "I have a Little Dreidel." These songs are good because they have been passed down from generation to generation and everyone knows them.
Afterward, we all went home to light the menorah. A menorah is an important part of the Hanukkah celebration. This is a candleholder with eight candles and a shammash, or servant candle. One candle is lit by the shammash for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. On the first night, only one candle is lighted. One the second night, two are lighted. Each night, the candles are allowed to burn all the way down until they go out.
In my home, each family member lights his or her own menorah. I made my menorah in preschool. The ceremony of lighting the menorah candles helps us remember the miracle of the oil in the old temple.
After the lighting of the candles, people give gifts to one another. We also usually adopt a needy family during the holidays, so that we can give to others that may not be able to celebrate at this time of the year.
Since my family is from both eastern Europe and from the Mediterranean, we have foods from two parts of the world. A popular food for Hanukkah is potato pancakes, or latkes, cooked in oil in honor of the miracle. We also eat suvganiyot, deep fried, jam-filled donuts, that are popular in Israel.
I love to play the dreidel game with my cousins. This is a spinning top game played with gold-covered chocolate coins, known as gelt. There are four letters on the four sided top which stand for nun, gimmel, hay, and shin. The Hebrew letters give the directions for what to give or take during the game. The letters also stand for "nes gadol hayah sham" or "a great miracle happened there," which helps us to remember the story of Hanukkah.
I love Hanukkah. It is a special time to celebrate with your family and friends and thank them for what you have.
PHOTO: Lighting their Hanukkah menorahs in Houston, Texas, are (from left) Sarah Cohen, Mitchell Meyers, Brandon Meyers, Brittney Sheena, Michelle Sheena, and Erin Sheena. (Photo Courtesy Erin Sheena)