Here is a short guide for those who are not Jewish to understand this holiday and how to be a good neighbor to Jewish friends during this Hanukkah season.
What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the successful victory of a small but devout band of Jewish rebels (the Maccabees) against their Syrian occupiers in 164 B.C. (B.C.E. in Judaism) and the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Often referred to as “the Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration of the miracle that occurred when the victorious Jews rededicated the Temple, which had been desecrated by the invading Syrians who sought to prevent Jews from practicing their faith. It is said that Judah Maccabee, the brave warrior whose priestly family led the rebellion, found there only sufficient holy oil to burn for a single day, but the oil miraculously lasted eight days.
Jews celebrate the Hanukkah miracle by saying special prayers and lighting a menorah (a specially designed candelabra), with one additional candle being lit to mark each successive night. The festivities also often include singing, the playing of a children’s game of chance called dreidel (where a four-sided top is spun and small tokens awarded according to on which side it lands), and the eating of special treats (potato latkes or sufganiyot) prepared in oil.
When is Hanukkah celebrated?
Hanukkah starts on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which generally falls in December. Its proximity in time to Christmas is coincidental, but more than a century ago, it led some American Jews to elevate its importance as a holiday. Consequently, today many American Jewish parents give their children a present each night of Hanukkah.
What greetings can I use?
“Have a happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Hanukkah” are the most common.
How can I be a good neighbor during Hanukkah?
You can be a good neighbor simply by wishing your Jewish neighbors a happy holiday. Be aware that it can be difficult to be a religious minority and to celebrate a holiday that is different from what almost everyone else is celebrating, especially for children. Avoid comparisons with Christmas, as this can sometimes be sensitive: Hanukkah is not the Jewish version of Christmas.