Is it us or does Hanukkah seem to get overshadowed by the hubbub surrounding Christmas?
Since this year’s eight-day celebration begins on Dec. 12, we’re here with eight facts you might not know about the Festival of Lights. The holiday concludes on Dec. 20.
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1. It is not “Jewish Christmas”
While children often receive gifts during Hanukkah, there is no traditional significance to them. There is, however, a tradition of giving gelt, or money, to children to entice them to learn the Torah. Additionally, Hanukkah isn’t considered a major Jewish holiday and doesn’t even get a mention in the Torah.
2. It — and its three spellings — mean “dedication”
While Hanukkah is the traditional spelling, it’s also seen as Chanukah or Chanukkah. The holiday celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, an ancient Jewish rebel army,over the Syrians as well as the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 165 BC.
3. It isn’t just the “Festival of Lights”
Hanukkah is also know as the Feast of Dedication and the Feast of the Maccabees.
The Maccabees only had enough oil to light the rededicated temple for one night, but it miraculously lasted for eight days. Menorah candles are lit each night of Hanukkah to commemorate this.
4. There’s a specific way to light the menorah
The menorah features nine candles, with the center one called the Shamash. This one is lit first and is then used to light the other eight candles. The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but are lit, one per day, from left to right.
5. After the lighting, there is singing
After the menorah is lit, families sing “Ma’oz Tzur,” or “Rock of Ages.” The song is believed to have been written in the 13th century
6. Students invented the dreidel game
The four-sided spinning top is synonymous with Hanukkah, but its origin was actually a ploy. Students illegally studying the Torah would pull out a dreidel and pretend to play the gambling game during soldier raids to avoid persecution.
7. Hanukkah’s ties to the White House began in 1951
Though President Jimmy Carter held the first lighting of the National Menorah on the White House lawn in 1979, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.’s ties to the holiday began two decades earlier.
Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion gave President Harry Truman a menorah in 1951. Fifty years later, on Dec. 10, 2001, President George W. Bush hosted the first official White House Hanukkah Party.
8. It might have the best food
To celebrate the miracle of the lasting oil, it’s customary to eat fried foods, like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (doughnuts) during the holiday. In fact, Israelis eat about 24 million sufganiyot during Hanukkah.