Hanukkah (7-15 December) celebrates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 160s BC. After outlawing the Jewish religion and Jewish practices, King Antiochus IV decreed that Jews must worship Greek gods in the Temple. The word ‘Hanukkah’ means dedication and commemorates the triumph of a band of rebel Jews known as the Maccabees in reclaiming their temple from the Greek-Syrians.
Hanukkah celebrates freedom from oppression. It also supports and celebrates freedom of religious expression. The celebration lasts for eight nights, to commemorate how long the holy light burned.
Hanukkah gifts include gold gelt coins (traditional chocolate coins in gold foil), a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top) and handwritten blessings to say as the Hanukkah candles are lit. The Greek-Syrians had outlawed Jewish studies, so the Jews spun dreidels to pretend they were merely playing games while they engaged with their scripture.
A Menorah (a candelabra with nine candles) is lit for each night of the holiday. Four on either side and a candle in the centre intended to light all the others. This is known as the shamash and it sits higher than (or somehow apart from) the other candles.
The miracle of the oil lasting eight days is not only celebrated through the lighting of the menorah, but also in the traditional foods that are eaten – latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), apple fritters, kugel (baked pudding made from egg noodles or potato).