The story of Hanukkah dates back to the second century BCE and is documented in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. Both of them describe the events that eventually led to establishing the holiday. At the time, Israel belonged to the Seleucid Empire under the reign of the King of Syria.
In 171 BCE, a new king, Antiochus IV, claimed the throne. He was known for being extremely intolerant towards the Jewish culture, forcing the people of Israel to adopt the Greek religion and beliefs. The Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted by the soldiers of Antiochus IV, so all services were eventually stopped.
In 167 BCE, Antiochus IV committed sacrileges to the Temple: he ordered an altar to Zeus to be erected on the site and pigs to be sacrificed at the temple's altar. The profanity wasn't unnoticed - a Jewish priest called Mattathias (Mattityahu), and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah founded a rebellion against the king. Mattathias soon died and his son Judah replaced him as a leader.
By 165 BCE the Jewish rebellion succeeded - the Temple was rededicated, hence the name of the festival, as Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Judah established a new altar in the place of the sacrileges and a new menorah. The rebels found only a small flask of olive oil to light a menorah - yet the one-day supply was enough to keep the candelabrum lit for eight days.
Hanukkah commemorates bravery, dedication, and light — that's why it is often called the Festival of Lights. During the holiday, Rabbis remind that we should always be kind to your family and beloved ones.
The most famous symbol of Hanukkah is a lit menorah. Opposed to the regular seven-light menorah, Hanukkah menorah has nine lights - a candle or oil-based light. The ninth light called shamash (“servant” in Hebrew) is used to kindle the other eight lights.
Each night of Hanukkah, Jewish people light up one candle, until all candles are lit up on the eighth night of the holoday. The lighting is performed as a ritual with reciting special blessings and singing traditional songs afterward. Songs like "Ma'oz Tzur" (Rock of Ages) and "Oh Chanukah" are among the most popular. Perhaps one of the most well-known in the English-speaking countries is “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel”.
The song refers to the traditional Hanukkah toy - dreidel. The four-sided spinning top has a Hebrew letter on each side: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), ש (Shin). Together, they form the acronym of the phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham”, which means, “A great miracle happened there”.
Like other religious holidays, Hanukkah also has traditional dishes. The custom calls for serving food prepared with olive oil to commemorate the miracle that took place in the Second Temple. One of the most popular dishes served on Hanukkah is potato pancakes or "latkes" in Yiddish.
The runner-up among the Hanukkah dishes is sufganiyah - a round doughnut filled with jelly and deep-fried in oil. The jelly used for sufganiyah is usually red, either strawberry or raspberry. After frying, the doughnut is sprinkled with powdered sugar.
The sweetness doesn't end with sufganiyah. Hanukkah gelt is a well-spread tradition customary during Hanukkah, when adults give children chocolate coins, usually with a menorah depicted on them. Grandparents often opt for giving children real money as a Hanukkah gift.
Celebration in Ukraine
As Ukraine is multifaceted and multi-religious, Hanukkah is celebrated in numerous large cities and small towns all over the country. President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko congratulated the Jewish community as well, wishing that "the sacred Hanukkah lights fill your hearts with love, bring peace and harmony to every family and home."
On December 2, the lighting of menorah took place in Odesa, the city with one of the most numerous Jewish communities in Ukraine. The large menorah was installed on the Primorsky Boulevard near the Duke de Richelieu monument. The first light was traditionally lit on the first night of Hanukkah.
On the same night, the first candle of a large outdoors menorah was lit in Kyiv as well. In the capital, the public menorah is located on Kontraktova Square, as Podil historically was one of the most populous Jewish districts. The Brodsky synagogue and local cultural communities hold festive celebrations during the holiday as well. For instance, Hanukkah Lights celebration held by Israeli Cultural Center in Kyiv. The party will take place on December 9 in Atlas Club. You can find more details and register at il4u.org.il/kiev.
We wish you happy holidays and peace. חג חנוכה שמח
Sources: chabad.org, whychristmas.com.
Photo sources: depositphotos.com, culturemeter.od.ua.